Vividly rendered characters appear against a collage of painted scenes that contrast romantic, pastoral imagery and bright, cartoonesque colours with crumbling gothic architecture and an underlying sense of foreboding. This latest collection of work by Lancashire-born, London-based artist Louis Bennett is partly inspired by the wild landscapes and heightened drama of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and also explores the powerful yet destabilising experience of falling in love. Ariel, the artist’s second solo show with Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, marks a new found optimism that’s expressed in the flushed faces and youthfulness of the figures depicted and yet, the splicing of the scenes suggests a pervading anxiety and unease. In this way, the works can be understood as expressions of fraught psychological states that are deeply personal, but also register the wider complexities of human existence.
Bennett’s process typically begins with the collection of found imagery and ephemeral materials which provide visual or atmospheric inspiration. For this latest exhibition, the artist cites The Tempest as a key influence. Some of the paintings allude to the play’s desolate maritime setting while others make a direct reference to the character of Ariel who, in Shakespeare’s narrative, is a magical spirit, but the name holds deeper significance for the artist as it is also the name of his partner, the title of a poetry collection by Sylvia Plath (whose words and life in West Yorkshire provide constant inspiration) and crucially, a homophone of the word ‘aerial’. ‘The feeling of being airborne, floating above the ground, is how this time has felt, for me, meeting someone who feels otherworldly in a historical moment where we all feel completely untethered from any sense of normality and stability,’ he explains. ‘One of the parts of The Tempest that really touched me is the idea of Prospero being a character in exile, longing for a lost home, seeking to have former glory restored to him. In deepest lockdown isolation, I felt like this, before my own Ariel arrived to save me from this feeling.’