• career

    Making Art and Doing Commerce: Finding the Balance with Robert Bentley

    Many of us wonder: Could I have a creative career? How would I sustain myself? Should I just jump and hope everything will work out? We asked Robert Bentley, 68, who has a thriving dual focus, his business and his art, how he balances the two pursuits.

    AGEIST: When did you start painting seriously?

    Robert Bentley: I first thought I was a painter/artist in fourth grade. I graduated from Pratt Institute in 1972 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting.

    Artwork Robert Bentley

    AGEIST: Have you found that you are painting more these days?

    RB: Yes. I am painting more than I have ever, these days. I am in the studio three days a week, Friday through Sunday and often a few more hours after dinner. Sometimes a tough choice between painting and MSNBC.

    AGEIST: How have you been balancing your revenue job vs your art production?

    RB: I like my gemstone business, fortunately. I have fun there, actually. The two identities keep me balanced. Too much solitude in the studio and I can get stuck in my right brain.

    Artwork Robert Bentley

    AGEIST: Do you have a certain place/space where you make art?

    RB: My painting studio is on the second floor of the building that I live in — a 400-square-foot apartment — and it is getting filled up with a lot of paintings.

    AGEIST: Do you have any sonic preferences for your art making? Music? Type? Or Silence?

    RB: I have been listening to a lot of opera playlists lately… things like “66 of the World’s Most Beautiful Arias.” I think it helps me concentrate.

    Artwork Robert Bentley

    AGEIST: Have the mediums you are using changed any the last few years?

    RB: I really love oil paint. I’ve always been interested in white lines as a way to describe energy and I’ve been making a lot of scratchboards that I find interesting — a masonite panel coated with Kaolin white clay and then a black ink surface. I scratch away the black surface and make the white lines that I’m interested in. I’ve been making pictures about string theory.

    Artwork Robert Bentley

    AGEISTDo you schedule certain times of the day for your business?

    RB: I am in my gemstone business Monday through Thursday, 10 – 4.

    AGEIST: How would you define success in your art?

    RB: Success? Art for me is a practice.

    Robert Bentley’s studio

    AGEIST: Do you foresee a day when you would only do your art? Or perhaps you enjoy the balance of having dual pursuits?

    RB: My gemstone revenue stream has done two things: One, I have great tools — tons of brushes, really good quality oil paint, and lots of canvasses. Two, it has protected my freedom to be reckless. Recklessness is an important part of creativity. I’m free to explore many different directions. Right now I have about six different vocabularies I’m cultivating. Many of my old friends with high-profile art careers are obligated by the market to make a branded product but I’m free to do anything. For me, the success of a painting is where I observe something that is being cultivated in my unconscious mind and it manages to appear on the picture plane and ring true. Last week I found a painting that I did twenty years ago, mostly made up of flowers, and I was surprised to see thematic continuity in what I was doing with the flowers and what I am doing now in my string theory paintings — they were the same thing. It was like my self got to see myself, over a twenty-year span. I really enjoy the balance of having double pursuits.

    Here to read our profile on Robert Bentley

    Here to read our profile on Chukwuemeka Ben Bosah, engineer and art curator

    Here to read about artist John Mosler’s show, The Decline of Intimacy


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