downtown jacksonville is where it's art

by Shea Slemmer
Matthew Bennett was born in Baltimore, MD where he attended the Maryland Institute College of Art. He is currently working from his Downtown studio on Bay Street, but this isn’t the first time he has found himself living in Jacksonville due to the fact that his wife is a nurse-midwife in the Navy and they move quite frequently. “My family and I live a sort of nomadic life,” says Bennett. “This is our third time living here and it has really come to feel like home. Jacksonville has been very good to me.”
Bennett has shown and sold his work in the United States and Japan, which is where he is headed once again in July of this year. His worldly nature may explain the “blend of traditional techniques with modern sensibility” his artist statement touts him for.
From what I’ve seen, Bennett uses the pencil and the brush. The series he is currently working on, titled A New Romanticism, combines large scale oil paintings with equally grand pencil renderings of classical motifs which are very much like narratives that echo the natural world. His muted color palette captures a mood and light that highlights the physical presence of his subjects, which are often static and isolated. Even when I see movement in his brush strokes, Bennett’s work still seems to have a meditative quality and touch on the silence of life. I am not speaking in a mystical sense, but rather from a grounded perspective; it’s just that to me, Bennett’s paintings remind us of what we are apt to forget. Maybe that there is a dolphin in the cloud overhead or that your wife looks very pretty tonight. It is those details that have the power to make machines seem worthless and suddenly, learning from our fellow man becomes a gateway to what we may have lost.
EU caught up with Bennett for an interview between his regular monthly exhibitions at various Downtown Art Walk locations and preparing for an upcoming show at R. Roberts Gallery in Avondale, of which the opening reception will be held on May 7th from 6- 9 pm.
EU Jacksonville: How do you like having a studio Downtown above the Arts Center Cooperative on Bay Street? Have you had any experience with other parts of the city?
Matthew Bennett: Downtown Jacksonville is where it’s at. I love Riverside and San Marco and the Beaches, but if you’re producing or interested in cutting edge art in Jacksonville, Downtown is really the only place to be. The Cultural Council and Downtown Vision Inc. have done an incredible job of finding space for artists to work and show their work. I have an amazing studio space that I share with other artist’s and dancers. It’s a great time to be a working artist in Jacksonville.
EU: Do you discuss your work with other artists? Do you feel that you benefit from working next to other artists Downtown?
MB: Having the space on Bay Street allows me to connect with some of the best artists working in Florida on almost a daily basis. I’ve never seen anything like the quality of work being produced here right now. Joey Thate, Dat Nguyen, Kim Barry, Megan Cosby, Ed Hall and Matt Abercrombie are some of the great artists that I get to interact with regularly. Their art is inspiring. If you aren’t familiar with these guys and their work you should get down to the next First Wednesday Art Walk and get to know them.
EU: Tell me about the series you are working on right now. How would you describe it?
MB: I consider myself a traditional artist. My painting techniques are varied but firmly rooted in a classical style. The series that I’m working on right now is called A New Romanticism. It’s about finding a modern approach to classicism, while rejecting disposable fads and pure academism. It’s definitely a transitional series. Each piece has its own meaning to me, but collectively it’s an effort to break free from the trap of technique for its own sake and to create something that has a presence greater than the subject matter would suggest.
EU: From what I have seen of your new work, I assume you notice details about women, like how they dress. Would you say that is accurate? What is it about a woman that inspires you?
MB: It’s true. I love women. What can I say? I joke sometimes that my paintings take a long time and if I have to look at something for four weeks straight it might as well be something I enjoy. There’s some truth there, but it’s more than that. The paintings I’ve done of dresses on the antique dress form are really about a sense of absence and longing. What’s not there is more important than what is, but that’s all you’ve got. Beyond that, I find women interesting and inspiring… and I get bored easily so I paint and draw what I like.
EU: Do you have any exhibitions coming up? Where can we see your work?
MB: You can always catch me during the First Wednesday Art Walk Downtown at either the old Hayden-Burns library or Suite 106 at the Landing. But if you’d like to see my entire new body of work I’ll be featured during the first weeks of May at R. Roberts Gallery in Avondale. The opening is Friday, May 7th.
For more information, please visit or contact the artist directly at [email protected]

tip of the month: “Go to a figure drawing class or group. I’m a firm believer in learning the rules before you decide how you’re going to break them and there’s nothing more challenging and educational than drawing the human form from life. It’s also a good place to meet with your contemporaries and get plugged into the art scene. Jacksonville has several different groups that get together on different days of the week to draw. Go…draw…hang out…have fun.” -Matthew Bennett