Vibe and Vibrancy: Interview with Artist Fred Bendheim

Artist Describes Shaped Paintings and Public Art Designed by Intuition

By Meagan J. Meehan | [email protected]

Vividly colored shapes and overlaid hues are combined to create eye-catching and vibrant sculptural paintings which first take root in the mind of artist Fred Bendheim who subsequently brings these abstract visions to life in his Prospect Heights studio. Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, Fred apprenticed with artist Philip Curtis—a founding artist of The Phoenix Art Museum—when he was a teenager. Fred then attended The University of California, Davis, where he studied art with William T. Wiley and Wayne Thiebaud before earning a B.A. in Art from Pomona College. He started his career as a professional artist in San Francisco, California, and exhibited his unique pieces at SFMoMA.

In 1984, Fred moved to Brooklyn and has stayed in New York ever since. His work has appeared at The Museum of Arts and Design in NYC, The Montclair Art Museum, The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, The National Museum of Costa Rica, The Neiman-Marcus Collection, Bradley International Airport, The Brooklyn Public Library, Sotheby’s Realty and many more. Fred is also a muralist who has completed four public murals—including two large painted murals in Brooklyn. His artworks can be found in South Korea, Costa Rica, Italy and Germany and he is presently represented by several New York galleries including Julie Keyes Fine Art, 490 Atlantic Gallery, and 440 Gallery.

As with many artists of the modern age, Fred also holds a part-time job…albeit one that is firmly rooted in the creative arena: he is a teaching artist at The Art Students League of New York and he has also instructed students at The College of Mt. Saint Vincent, Young Audiences of New York, The Brooklyn Museum, and Learning Leaders.

Fred feels that his artistic inspirations come from a strong sense of intuition, composition and design; form, line, and color are his means of communicating specific feelings and his art spans boundaries between painting, sculpture, figuration and abstraction. Currently, Fred is keeping himself busy working on a brand-new series of abstract-shaped paintings for shows in New York galleries including Brooklyn’s 440 Gallery and 490 Atlantic Gallery.

Fred recently discussed his art and career via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in art and how did you develop your original style?

Fred Bendheim (FB): As a child I was lucky to grow up in an interesting house full of art. My parents had art from their families from Germany and New York, and they collected some contemporary artists, and Native American artists where we lived in Arizona. They also made some art, ceramics and wood carvings. I remember my father once made napkin holders from the skeletons of cacti. The desert landscape was always present as well, which had a visual influence on me. My style developed slowly over fifty years of making art and has gone through many permutations.

MM: You are known for your sculptural wall hangings, but you have also created fountains! What is that process like and where can the general public see these fountains?

FB: I’ve always been fascinated by water and all of the forms it takes, and I have made about five fountains/sculptures over the years. Two are made from stone and concrete and are permanently on display in Arizona (one in a Frank Lloyd Wright building in Scottsdale). The others were temporary and more whimsical—one was made from suspending celery stalks which I used as channels for the water. For another fountain I used plastic forms and translucent hoses. The sound of the water is important as well. I’ve also painted themes of water over the years. Several years ago, I had a mini-retrospective on the theme of water. It’s a theme I return to. Water is always water, but always different, like a river is never the same water from moment to moment. Its sameness flows into its mutability.

MM: You also make public art, such as murals. So, where can Brooklynites see your murals and how did these opportunities come to you?

FB: I’ve made several murals and public art pieces in New York. Some were temporary installations, like “Song For Harlem” (2013) which was commissioned by Chashama for a large storefront in Harlem. I covered the windows with cut yellow paper, and then installed blue lights inside the building, so the appearance changed from day to night. I’ve also collaborated with young student artists and had their art printed on billboards on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, and I made a mural from food packaging for a grocery store with students. The murals I was very proud of were two large site-specific murals I made for Industry City in 2019 called “Creationism” and “Evolution.” They were very successful works and were well-received by the public. They were mostly abstract but had some recognizable features like snakes and a figure of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Unfortunately, the murals were destroyed. People ask me why, and I can’t explain it, except to say these people had different notions about art than I do. I think they were interested in using art as PR via social media posts. So, the more posts of different art, the more PR (and profits). Since then, and because many people complained about their destruction, I believe they have changed their policy with regards to murals they commission, but it came too late for my murals. So, I learned a painful lesson about making public art. I don’t think people realize the extent of work and feelings that goes into artmaking. It can feel similar to making (and losing) a child.

MM: You grew up in Arizona and spent a lot of your early adulthood in California but now you live and work in Brooklyn. How does the art scene in Brooklyn compare to the one out West?

FB: I’ve been in Brooklyn since 1984 and I’ve seen a lot of changes here. I did spend my early years out west but can’t really say what the art scene is like there now. Generally speaking, there’s more art and less nature here in NYC, but I continue to be inspired by nature, even if it’s an internalized nature. Brooklyn probably has more artists than anywhere in the world, and more galleries are popping up here. I live near the Brooklyn Museum which is a great resource. I like art that is universal in its appeal. The subject matter can be anything: Brooklyn, political or abstract feeling-based art, but the form and structure has to be universal, so no matter when and where it’s seen it’s still relevant. I’ve recently moved my studio to my home in Prospect Heights. I have a lot of plants in two gardens, so I’m sure that will affect my art.

MM: Do you feel that the vibrancy of Brooklyn inspires you at all and what’s your favorite thing about being a Brooklyn-based artist?

FB: I like being able to see the sky in Brooklyn, as opposed to being in the more closed spaces of Manhattan. I like having some outdoor spaces to play in here. Space is very important both physical and mental space.

MM: How did you find gallery and museum representation for your work?

FB: New York has a lot of opportunities for artists. Some of it is networking and there’s some luck involved too.

MM: You have art in Neiman Marcus stores—that’s actually how I initially found out about your work! How did that opportunity come to you?

FB: I have a painting called “Thundercloud” in the Neiman-Marcus collection on Long Island. That happened through an art consultant from the Bay Area that knew of my work.

MM: You’re a member of the 440 Gallery in Park Slope which is an artist collective. How has that helped you gain exposure for your work?

FB: 440 Gallery has been in Park Slope for almost twenty years. We have 15 artist members and an enthusiastic and dedicated following. I also show my work at 490 Atlantic Gallery in downtown Brooklyn. I had an exhibition there called Alltogethernow which consisted of twelve of my recent abstract shaped paintings.

MM: You work as an art teacher, so what is some of the advice that you give to budding artists?

FB: In technical terms I tell them that if the art isn’t working it’s a 99% chance it’s a compositional problem. Even if the color looks wrong, it’s composition. In terms of being an artist and having some ambitions for your art-good luck! Just keep going…

MM: Does working with students influence your own creativity at all?

FB: I like the energy of working with students, especially if they’re serious about their art. Sometimes the beginner’s mind is best for making art. Picasso said he spent years learning to paint like a master and spent his whole life learning to paint like a child.

MM: You have written articles about art for a British medical journal called The Lancet. How does art figure into a medical journal and what topics have your articles focused on?

FB: I wrote for The Lancet in a section they had on culture. I wrote mostly reviews of art shows, and I wrote a series of articles on science and art. Through those articles, I was invited to attend a forum on “Art and Astronomical Phenomena” in Venice, where I showed some of my work dealing with astronomical themes.

MM: Be honest, out of all of your creations, do you have any particular favorite piece?

FB: My murals at Industry City were art that I was very proud of. The twelve paintings I had on display at 490 Atlantic are some of my favorites. I also have some earlier work that I’m pleased with in hotels, hospitals and in storage. I am proud of my body of work consisting of hundreds of paintings, drawings and collage work.

MM: You have had an incredible international career, but what would you say has been the highlight of your artistic career so far?

FB: I’ve enjoyed doing art residencies in Costa Rica. I’ve been going there since 2001 and it’s been a nice place to work and do some things I wouldn’t normally do here in Brooklyn, like use the tropical foliage and leaf-cutter ants to make art. I am going to Mexico soon to see the art there.

MM: Can you tell us a little more about the new art that you’re actively making?

FB: I’ve recently been working in aluminum. Sometimes I paint on it, and sometimes I use it raw. I use conventional tools for drawing as well as an iPad to design them. I have them laser cut (instead of doing the cutting myself like I usually do). Making them in aluminum allows the forms to be more varied, thinner for instance, and they can be shown outside.

MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

FB: I’d like more people to see my work, so I’m looking around for new places to show it, including more public spaces. I’d also like to teach more and perhaps travel with my work. The artists at the 440 Gallery and I will be traveling to Berlin this July for a group show at a gallery there. We are doing an exchange show with EP Contemporary Gallery in Berlin, so the artists from Berlin will be showing at 440 Gallery in June and then we will go to Berlin in July.

To learn more about Fred, visit his official website: fredbendheim.com. You can also follow him on Instagram @artist_fredbendheim.

The Whimsicals: Mosaic Artwork That Delights and Amuses

An Interview with Stained Glass Artist Sandra Forrest

By Meagan J. Meehan | [email protected]

Sandra (“Sandy”) Forrest is the creator of vividly-colored mosaic artwork which immediately grabs attention due to its vibrancy and equilibrium between abstract and figurative work. In her translucent glass pieces—which expertly use color, texture, shape, and light to create a cohesive composition—human figures lounge in pools, fly through the sky, or fan themselves femininely, typically surrounded by backgrounds of shapes and patterns and colors that hark back to abstract expressionist approaches to art. She is arguably best known for her “Whimsicals” series of multidimensional opaque glass mosaics that feature humorous scenes. This collection, more than any other, is a direct reflection and extension of Sandy’s book illustrations, which is another medium that she is passionate about.

“Lady With a Fan” by Sandra Forrest

Sandy is currently associated with the Brooklyn Artists Waterfront Coalition (BWAC) in Red Hook but she started her career in California where she earned a B.A. in Graphic Communications at San Diego State University. Upon relocating to New York, she earned an M.A. in Art Education from Brooklyn College.

Sandy recently granted an exclusive interview where she discussed her experiences working as an artist and creatively thriving in Brooklyn.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in art and how did you get into book illustration and stained glass?

Sandra Forrest (SF): I was a graphic design major in college and an illustration minor. I was an art director in children’s magazine and book publishing, including Golden BooksWeekly Reader, and others. I have illustrated over 60 books and co-wrote three, two of which are graphic novels. The mosaics, especially the Whimsicals, are a direct extension of my book illustrations, just using a new medium. Glass is a fascinating medium since light is one of the materials I use.

MM: You are known for your “Whimsicals” which are art pieces with a humorous edge. What are some of the most memorable pieces in this series?

SF: I made (and sold) several versions of “Coney Island Midway,” which are fun because of the characters, some quite real. One hot July day ten years ago I drove to Coney to take pictures of real people and turned them into ceramic. Also, I sent you a favorite called “Lady With a Fan After Klimt” which is a mix of ceramic and metallic mosaic pieces. I love the mix of colors and textures, flat and bas relief.

MM: How do you think visual art and humor can inform one another?

SF: I don’t see much humorous art in shows and galleries. Maybe if it’s humorous it’s not taken seriously, which is a shame. We all need more laughs.

MM: You are part of the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition (BWAC) in Red Hook. So, how did you get involved with that organization and how have they helped you further your work?

SF: BWAC has provided a strong and supportive venue to show and sell my work in member and juried shows. It’s exciting and rewarding to be a part of that art scene and being around other artists. We all work in such different ways that it’s thrilling to see new work from friends, especially when we reopen the gallery in April and we have had a chance to work over the winter. I am the Vice President, so the winter is also really full getting organized for the 2024 shows, there were six Zoom meetings last week alone. So much goes into the background: member committees work on publicity, grant-writing, exhibitions and events, membership, governance issues, and strategic planning. Once the show season starts there isn’t as much time to do all that. We also do a lot of community outreach, such as with the Red Hook Business Alliance, Brooklyn Public Library events, Park Slope Windsor Terrace Artists, and more.

MM: Do you feel that the vibrancy of Brooklyn—especially Red Hook—inspires you and what’s your favorite thing about being a Brooklyn-based artist?

SF: Brooklyn overall has become an exciting and, as you say, vibrant art scene. It seems that wherever you go—Provence, Rome—everyone knows Brooklyn is a cool, creative place. You don’t even have to say Brooklyn, New York. Just Brooklyn is enough. Red Hook has an outlaw vibe which I really like. It’s in New York but in some ways, not really. I look at the Civil War-era warehouses where the gallery is and wonder what crazy/wonderful and large work is being done there. Artists come by and tell us they are making big wood sculptures just down the street, or baby clothes! It’s all about having the space. And the visual drama of the area is just inspiring. The sunsets! OMG!! That statue! As far as visual inspiration, I have made many mosaics of the bridges but finally moved on to other subjects.

MM: How do you go about finding opportunities to exhibit your work?

SF: Ten years ago, I applied to every craft fair within an hour of Brooklyn: New Jersey, Connecticut, Brooklyn, Westchester. Sometimes eight or ten a year. I sold well in those shows and it was fun talking to customers, but many were held outdoors, and expensive so when it rained it was a disaster. Putting and taking down the tent was difficult. I stopped doing that this year. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce has a new shop with a gallery show in Industry City. Fifteen BWAC artists were featured, which is very nice. Also, I am in a Salon Show at the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center which opens today.

MM: Be honest, out of all of your creations, do you have any particular favorite piece?

SF: “Lady With a Fan After Klimt.” I sold it, but regret selling it. “The Path,” a translucent mosaic of a path through birches with strong shadows. “Aerial View of Manhattan” as seen from a plane at sunset, at sunset.

MM: What would you say has been the highlight of your artistic career so far?

SF: I always think the highlight is whatever I just finished. The graphic novels were really fun because I worked with my two best friends (both writers). “Franceso’s Fountain” and “The Mysteries at the Vanished Villa” required several trips to Rome, Venice, and Naples, not as a tourist this time, but with a purpose.

MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

SF: The challenge is always asking myself: what’s the next idea? Right now, I’m trying to come up with another ceramic/mosaic concept. I can’t copy myself as that’s boring.

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