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The Incredible Gift of Lockdown: A Chance to Fulfill a Dream

Robert Bentley talks to us about his lockdown painting practice, and the joys of having time to pursue a lifelong dream

Robert Bentley, who is in normal times occupied with the demands of his business, has been joyously painting in his studio since the beginning of the crisis. He has transformed what could be a very tough time into a span of tremendous creative output, finding that slowing down and focusing on something he has wanted to do for years can be wonderful.

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“I’ve simply shifted the discipline of my gemstone business to my painting practice”

How do you organize your day? Do you have a daily schedule?

Mickey, my Boston Terrier, and I are up at dawn and after downing a few hits of espresso we are out in the ghostly quiet streets of the West Village. The lack of traffic makes it possible to hear amazing bird songs that I never heard before in NYC.

I fuss about eating, cleaning, watching the news, looking at social media until 10. Then I have to go to my studio. In the past, I always painted when I felt like it and squeezed in hours here and there and secretly longing to be a full-time painter. So this has been a great gift and I’ve simply shifted the discipline of my gemstone business to my painting practice.

So I am in the studio at 10 and then break for lunch at 1:30 or 2. Very often I will take care of a lot of other projects and prepare an early dinner then spend another 2 to 3 hours painting into the early evening.

I did this first cloud painting in the fall of 2019 after returning from 2 months in the Adirondacks and lots of kayaking.

How long are your focused painting sessions?

4 hours max. It is interesting to note, though, that when the painting is going well I have no sense of time. Painting, like meditation, can really bring you squarely into the moment and have no sense of time. Hunger usually drags me out of the studio.

What music, if any, do you listen to while working?

I’ve downloaded a few compilations like 66 of the World’s Greatest Operatic Arias and I’ve been listening to a lot of Paul Simon lately — great songwriter making really relevant material to the aging baby boomer, I think.

“I had the thought that we all should have been applauding the beauty of the sky … so, lately I’ve been painting clouds”

How are you feeding your inspiration?

Recently I’ve been bowled over by the beauty of the sky. Walking the streets of NYC one occasional comes to a more open space at certain times of the day and the drama of color and form created by clouds was thrilling. I suddenly felt as though I was at an amazing piece of theater and that the people in the streets with me were members of the same audience. I had the thought that we all should have been applauding the beauty of the sky as my neighbors walking beside me rushed home after their workday. So, lately I’ve been painting clouds. As many different kinds of clouds in as many different painting styles as possible. I like the idea that a painting reminds people to look for the beauty in the world around them every day.

This came out of nowhere on day 2 weeks ago. It felt like a celebration while I was working on it.

Balancing Painting With the Day Job

How often do you leave the studio, for how long?

I find I need a 2 – 3-hour break between sessions. I think I’m a very right-brain painter. There are times where my mind is actually watching my arm paint all by itself. A very intuitive process. Act and react. A leap of recklessness. I need to switch over to the left brain and talk to people, write some emails or other projects with some non-profits I do service with.

Do you have goals, daily or in general?

I need to work for at least 4 hours a day. Most days, 6-8 hours is what happens.

How often do you engage with your day job?

These days about 4-8 hours a week!

Do you have contact with other people — telephone, Zoom, etc?

Lots.

“[Lockdown] has been an incredible gift that has enabled a lifelong dream”

How do you decide when a piece is done?

This is tricky. While most of the work arrives via an intuitive process, at some point the ego intervenes to pass judgment on the work — this is very tricky. I have wiped stuff out at the end of the day because at one point I decided it was awful. Two hours later I reviewed a photo I had taken of a piece and really liked it and was baffled by my thinking. I spent the next day reconstructing the image.

I generally will stop working on something if I think it’s working, and move on. I have a bunch of old work that I could make better because I think I’m learning new technical things I didn’t have the time for before but, for the most part, I think to just respect the past and move on.

Would you say your lockdown experience is more or less desirable than before? It has a certain positive focusing effect.

This has been an incredible gift that has enabled a lifelong dream that was unavailable to me in the past. At times I note that I am really happy these days.

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