BRATTLEBORO—“Nuclear Family,” an exhibit of new work by Amy Bennett on view at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center through June 16, features small paintings that tackle large topics, including marriage, child rearing, and female identity.
The smallest painting in the exhibit, “Problem Child,” is less than 3 inches high and 4 1/2 inches wide. In it, a girl stands near the center of a messy room, her back to the viewer, as a small fire burns in the corner.
Like all the paintings in the exhibit, “Problem Child” implies a narrative, raising as many questions as it answers.
“What has the artist allowed us to see? What is implied but not seen?” asked BMAC Chief Curator Mara Williams on the BMAC website. “When and how did the quotidian become dramatic?”
Bennett depicts realistic scenes of domesticity, but her models are not actual houses and people. Nor are they photographs. Instead, Bennett constructs elaborate 3-D models and then paints what she sees, much like a still-life painter. This approach gives Bennett complete control over lighting, composition, and angle of view.
“I have always preferred working from life — observing real light hitting real objects,” Bennett says in her artist statement. “In searching for an approach to make narrative paintings, I worked first from dolls and then dollhouse furniture and eventually discovered the world of model railroad miniatures. I have been working at that scale, or even smaller, for more than 15 years.”
“Amy Bennett’s deftly rendered paintings engage us in narratives of a community,” Williams said. “Her manipulation of vantage point affords the viewer a voyeuristic glimpse at the private, familial dramas taking place throughout the neighborhood.”
Although Bennett has worked from miniatures for many years, the paintings in “Nuclear Family” represent a shift in her focus.
“I have painted scenes of suburban home life in the past, but they were more related to themes of isolation and voyeurism,” she said. “Now that I am entrenched in suburban family life myself, my perspective has shifted. ‘Nuclear Family’ is more concerned with the vulnerabilities and anxieties of parenthood and marriage.”
Bennett’s work has been exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum of Arts & Design. In 2011, she was commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Arts for Transit program to create a permanent mosaic installation at the 86th Street R Subway Station in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
Bennett’s paintings have appeared on the covers of several novels, including, most recently, Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.