Carol Bennett’s swimmers return to Eisenhauer Gallery in Edgartown

Carol Bennett’s swimmers return to Eisenhauer Gallery in Edgartown

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"Papillion," an oil painting on wood by Carol Bennett. — Painted by Carol Bennett

Elegant swimmers, paddle boarders, and sea creatures will float across the walls of the Eisenhauer Gallery in a show titled “Wet,” which features the water-themed works of Hawaii artist Carol Bennett.

“It’s all about being wet and the peacefulness of being underwater, the coolness of the air and the sea,” said gallery owner Elizabeth Eisenhauer.

Carol Bennett's show "Wet" will open at Eisenhauer Gallery on Saturday, June 28.
Carol Bennett’s show “Wet” will open at Eisenhauer Gallery on Saturday, June 28.

Ms. Eisenhauer first encountered Ms. Bennett’s works in 2009 while on a hunt for art that would resonate with Island living. “Some people see [that art] as a lighthouse or a beachscape or seashells, but I wanted to get beyond that,” she said.

Since the Island debut of Ms. Bennett’s provocative swimmers five years ago, her work has been transported annually from her home in Kauai, Hawaii, to the gallery’s North Water Street location. Though the gallery, which opened in 2000, exhibits paintings, sculptures, and, most recently, antiques upstairs at Edgartown’s Colonial Inn, owner Elizabeth Eisenhauer said that most recognize it as “the one with the swimmers.”

Vibrant paintings of female swimmers from an underwater perspective have been the main components of Ms. Bennett’s repertoire for the last 30 years. Some swimmers are seen in pools from the artist’s time in downtown Los Angeles when she taught at the Art Center College of Design in the 1980s, but inspiration for her latest pieces comes solely from the waters of Kauai, where she lives and works.

Ms. Bennett’s love of the ocean should resonate with many Vineyard residents and visitors. “When you disconnect to the mainland and go out onto the water, something spiritual happens,” Ms. Bennett said in a phone interview with The Times. “I throw myself into the water almost every day. It grounds me.”

Many of the paintings portray the artist herself during her daily swims. Ms. Bennett’s husband, Wayne Zebzda, is a videographer and often shoots videos of his wife underwater, from which she selects stills that capture the fluidity of her movements to turn into paintings.

The paintings’ top sections are abstract reflections on the surface of the water while the bottoms are representational of the human form. However, the subjects’ identities remain unclear; the faces are hidden by the surface of the water or by the swimmers’ bodies to create an anonymity through which Ms. Bennett hopes the viewer can imagine herself.

Those familiar with the swimmer paintings will recognize similarities with seasons past and detect new elements in the mix. Painted on plywood, some of Ms. Bennett’s latest pieces possess a three-dimensional quality. With her brush, she follows the grain of the wood and allows its dips and curves to become the musculature of the swimmers and the flow of the water that submerges them.

“Wet” also incorporates reverse glass paintings, the luster of which pertains to the show’s title, and subjects not limited to swimmers. Surreal stand-up paddle boarders, fish, and anything else the artist encounters during her swims in Kauai waters will also make an appearance in the exhibition.

“[My work] has a large vocabulary, but the water always pops up,” Ms. Bennett said.

“When I come back to the swimmers every year, there’s something that’s always the same and something that’s always different.”

“Wet” also includes guest artist Monica Wyatt’s expressionistic sculptures, which will stand, sit, and lie throughout the gallery during the show. The opening reception on Saturday features the unveiling of Ms. Wyatt’s life-size bronze sculpture, “I’m Listening.”

Opening Reception for “Wet,” Saturday, June 28, 6–8 pm, Eisenhauer Gallery, Edgartown. Show runs through July 6. With music by Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish. For more information, visit eisenhauergallery.com.