Robert Bentley was born in Canada in 1975 Saint John New Brunswick where he spent his childhood until age 12. In his earliest years he was aware his father left the house for work but that was an abstraction compared to the time his father spent in his workshop painting or carving. As soon Robert showed interest in visual expression his father gave him the tools and resources for further exploration.
Emphasizing the importance of learning how to draw the human figure, Robert's first Art Books were George Bridgeman's guide to drawing from life, various anatomy books, and examples of the work of the Old Masters. From as early as 5 years old he began to copy from these and observe his father among the smells of oil paint, turpentine, and wood.
His self-education continued through elementary school, and after moving to Nova Scotia, through Junior High and High school. Needing to go to Europe to explore and expand his education, he moved to England to work and study in 1995.
After continuing his auto-didactic approach for a few years he applied and got accepted at the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London where he studied briefly.
He has exhibited his work in Nova Scotia, England, Greece, and Ontario.
Most of his work involves some form of figurative analysis, informed or inspired by his voracious reading of many other subjects (Theoretical physics, Psychology, Mathematics, Biology, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Chess, Go etc.).
There is more than one way to see the world and we are gifted beyond the dreams of avarice with the selection of lenses available to us. To be clear I’m not talking about there being more than one “truth”; I don’t engage in that insidious and nonsensical post-modernist-truth-heckling. I’m talking about the many realities that exist within the expression of a single person, thing, or phenomenon.
If I’m to depict another human being I’ll be looking at their psychology, their genetic proclivities, their physical reality, and all other permutations from the micro to the macro. Only when considering both the ephemeral and the concrete together can the picture truly be whole.
There are two things I am referring to when I use the expression “many different lenses”. The first is that we exist in relation to our environment and a great deal of whom we are is directly related to the culture and the times in which we live. Our world is complex and many-sided and if I focused solely on the more ephemeral or conceptual aspects I would be blinded to much that is related to these experiences. This blindness would reduce the scope of how I express myself. The second thing I am referring to is that these pieces are all part of the whole. There is a unity to knowledge and one discovery or insight in one “discipline” could be related to or inspire another.
We should understand that language is an incredibly powerful tool, but not a mirror of reality. There is nothing in the words “Theoretical Physics” other than a convenient hook for us to hang our thoughts upon. Where theoretical physics “ends” and chemistry “begins” is nothing more than an agreed upon linguistic convention used to provide useful scientific models. Because of the arbitrary nature of these (albeit absolutely necessary) labels it is a mistake to consider reality itself likewise compartmentalized. So when I say that I use many lenses I am merely stating that to see clearly you need to see everything that colours your experience. The more lenses you use the fewer filters you’ll have.
Generally speaking I have two main directions I’m exploring at the moment, both concerning the human form.
The first are interpretations of the figure through the prism of Non-Euclidean geometry. Incorporating time and the possibilities of higher dimensions that we’re not used to considering (at least not consciously) when looking at another person. By placing many different versions of the same face or figure in different positions over top of one another, a kind of lattice-work emerges – an organized chaos that I then weave other features of the figure (underlying anatomical features and other elements that strike me at the time).
A way to describe some of the images would be both noisy and coherent. Whether painting or drawing the lines and forms overlap head in rhythmic directions like waves but with enough variation and discordance that many parts stand out. I’m trying to coordinate this noise so that the resulting pattern tells a story about the 4 dimensional person it’s supposed to be.
At the moment I'm still studying and chipping away at what this style provides. Much of what I produce are studies, particularly studies of the face or head. It is a language I am still learning.
The second direction is a little more confusing, and would take longer to describe – I’ve called these “Mindscapes” and will continue to do so until a better descriptor comes about.
There is variety to be seen between the near infinite variation of the human figure, but as much as you can contrast the body of one person to another, the differences available in the garden of the mind is far greater. Although our shells are what elicits responses and hogs all the glory of attention – it is the interplay between our thoughts which displays the brightest colours.
Another way of thinking about this is that the appearance of a desktop computer can vary quite a bit, but by far the most important qualities are the underlying architecture that you can’t see, the algorithms which direct its actions, and the unseen data that it has accumulated. When one computer interacts with another the outside form plays a far smaller role than the monumental connections lying invisible.
Our appearance and physical shell play a more important role than the box the computer puts its parts in, but it still is just a shell – a container for a person with years of data accumulation, experiences, algorithms, propensities and predispositions. The variation available and observable between one human and another on this level of examination is orders of magnitude more pronounced than comparisons of the physical body. While our health and physical appearance are important and can be celebrated for its inspiration; some of the limelight it bathes in is taken directly from the work of the underlying mindscape.
So instead of the landscapes of the human form, I wanted to depict the interaction of the mindscapes of who we really are. In some ways of course the greatest Artists already did/do that – the subtle play among the distinct physical features suggested much of what was bubbling underneath; but I am trying to remove the connection to the physical so that only the vast differences between our mental architecture is visible.
Mindscapes exist in an abstract plane and while everything is an expression of physical phenomena on some level, the concepts, abilities, and idiosyncrasies exist in a non-physical concept space. The ability for one person to recognize mathematical patterns (for example) can be traced a great deal to patterns among their neurons – but the value of those mathematical constructs, their interaction, and the efficacy by which they are discovered… are far more boundless than how much weight a person could physically lift. That is, the difference between the world’s strongest man and an average man with respect to feats of strength is nowhere near as dramatic as the difference between the world’s smartest man and the average. And this is just examining capabilities or specific talents. Personality traits, how much they enjoy or are repulsed by certain phenomena, emotional structures, motivations – the variation and scope among these characteristics dwarfs the expression of things which need to be rooted to the laws of physics.
I suppose the best way I can put it is if we were to look at two people, a small child and an adult observing them, we could look at their bodyscapes (figure) or their mindscapes. The bodyscape would consist of the anatomical differences between a child and an adult, perhaps gender variation, and other features which would be slightly bigger or smaller versions of elements both figures share.
The comparative mindscapes of these two figures could be as different as tic-tac-toe to 8 dimensional chess. Yes they share a great deal due to the evolutionary and cultural history both have shared, as well as the aforementioned “hardware” that their mindscape is manifested from; but one mind might be an infinite palace of elegant connections and another a collection of badly insulated copper wires making due as best it can. Passion could be a slow burn or muted background noise for one, and the other a terrible monster, unable to be tamed that drags them from one brilliant spark to another. The chaos and variation buzzing inside their heads are what guides their actions towards each other, but it remains invisible – cloaked in the shell which mutes the colours within.
Don’t get me wrong, the human figure is one of the most beautiful things in the world and an incredible vehicle for self-expression. I’ve fallen in love with its study over and over again throughout my life and will continue to maintain the close relationship with that muse forever. This separation isn’t meant to abandon the figure – only to imagine what our times together would be like without it being there.