Susan Bennerstrom’s soft blue eyes come into full focus as oil paint and perspective meet on the prepared canvas. Bold lines, clean forms, light, and shadow emerge. If one is ever fortunate enough to see a pastel or painting by Bennerstrom in person, the piece will instantly whisk you into a dream where the world is quiet and con-templative. Perhaps the vibrant hues and emphasis on light is what draws everyone in at first glance, but there is mystery in the shadows.
When it comes to her paintings, Bennerstrom sees what others merely pass by. She doesn’t care about obligatory scen-ery paintings that tourists awe over but rather she finds fas-cination with the play of light over ordinary interiors—the gloss of a polished floor, the filtered light through parted cur-tains. Her piece “Swan” typifies Bennerstrom’s style. The chair is intended for a model to pose on with the drape as a cover. Bennerstrom encountered this setting at the Gage Academy in Seattle, she was charmed by the position of the chair with-out a model, the playful window light and the shadows of the drape hanging loosely.
There is no way to pinpoint a specific category for Bennerstrom’s work. Her art is an exaggeration of the world’s smaller details with her signature style added to the mix. She said her artistic process involves extracting features and enhancing them with color or eliminating aspects that just don’t work.
“When I start to put the paint on, then it’s always surprising. One thing leads to another and one area of color may suggest what I want to do next to it,” Bennerstrom said. “It’s always a process of troubleshooting and figuring out what’s wrong or what’s working so I can keep developing it into something better and better. It’s a happy and frustrating process.”
Art has been an important aspect of Bennerstrom’s life. From her early years residing in Bellevue to her current life in Bellingham, she has been teaching art, painting, showing her work, and garnering accolades. The complication of being an artist, however, is in the drudgery of self-employment and the tedious business that comes with it, according to Bennerstrom. “I just can’t wait to get through that stuff so I can just get at the painting, the thing I really want to do.”
Throughout the years, Bennerstrom’s undying romance with art has informed so many areas of her life, even outside the studio. The interior of her lovely home on South Hill is adorned with a variety of vivid colors—her home functions as an extension of the artwork in which she dwells.
Once a devotee of chalk and oil pastels, she gave them up for a new passion. “I stopped using pastels and started using oil paints and I haven’t looked back since. I love them. For one thing, I will never get bored. There will always be more to learn. It’s so much more complex than any other medium.”
In one of her latest works, Bennerstrom painted 12 pieces for a group of wineries in Eastern Washington. Her piece “The Willow” shows how versatile and dimensional oil paints can be. The light flickering among the willow tree’s leaves in the middle of a gorgeous sunny day allow for the leaves to have depth without any impasto—the layering of paint on the canvas to create physical dimension.
With oil paints and her art career as a whole, Bennerstrom is a strong believer in continuing forward, constantly learning and doing until she is incapable.
“I’m over 65 so I could call it retirement age but I told them I’m never going to retire. I’m going to keep doing this until I can’t anymore. It just feels like at this stage in my life, there’s so much more that I want to paint. It gets deeper, the quality is better, my ideas come from a deeper place. I don’t see any reason why I would stop unless I absolutely couldn’t anymore.”
Bennerstrom’s interiors linger with the viewer, providing both a sense of haunting and longing as well as a sense of peace, of completion. We are fortunate to be able to witness her forward motion, her next big breakthrough.