Jamie Bennett is among the most highly regarded artists working in the enamels field today. With the color sensibilities of an abstract painter and the formal and structural interests of a contemporary sculptor, Bennett has created a rich body of work that is at once powerfully raw and elegantly refined. His abiding love of color and his embrace of rich decorative patterns are apparent throughout his work. Something of an iconoclast, Bennett has created both wearable and non-wearable forms – including jewelry, sculpture, drawings and paintings -- that defy the notion of preciousness so often associated with contemporary studio jewelry and enamels.
The son of a designer for a prominent dress manufacturer in New York, Jamie Bennett was raised in an artistically rich environment. He left New York in 1966 to study business administration at the University of Georgia where he was awarded a B.B.A. in 1970. However, in his senior year in college he took several classes that sparked his interest in art and led him in an entirely unexpected direction. He went on to receive his M.F.A. at the State University of New York, New Paltz (1974) where he studied with the master silversmith Kurt Matzdorf and an emerging leader in the metals field Robert Ebendorf. While at SUNY: New Paltz, Bennett was introduced to enameling by Matzdorf and became more deeply interested in the medium after reading Margarete Seeler’s influential book on technique. To learn more about enameling, Bennett enrolled in a workshop at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina with the innovative young artist William Harper. He subsequently studied with Harold B. Helwig, another master of the medium. After teaching at several universities in the Midwest and New England, Bennett returned to SUNY: New Paltz where he has taught since 1985. He retired from teaching in 2015.
Bennett’s earliest work in enamel, produced in the late 1970s, is highly structured and rather subdued in color. These crisply defined early pieces frequently depict garment patterns, a resonant allusion to his mother and the professional tools of the clothing designer. In the early 1980s, Bennett introduced brilliant color and inventive new shapes to his enamel jewelry. While his style became increasingly loose and painterly through the 1980s, his enamels were usually framed within clearly delineated silver bezels. In his elegant compositions of this period, fluid forms in enamel are often juxtaposed with arcing shapes in gold or silver, creating a rich contrast between the vibrant hues of the loosely applied enamel color and the lustrous beauty of the precious metal. Starting about 1988 with his Priori series, Bennett abandoned the enclosure of the bezel and began to use an electroforming process to make highly sculptural copper forms he then enameled on all sides. These raw, twig-like forms, enameled fully in the round, broke radically from tradition and forged a new identity for contemporary jewelry. Bennett’s intimately scaled “sculptures” of this period possess a crude beauty, a power in the seeming randomness of their shape and in the painterly application of the rich enamel. Over the past ten years Bennett has returned to using the bezel as a form of framing device. However, the dynamic power and evocative poetry unleashed in his Priori series continue to appear as fundamental characteristics of his work.
Throughout Jamie Bennett’s work there are frequent references to nature. However, he does not consider himself a naturalist, drawn to describing the facts and details of the natural world. Rather Bennett is interested in how the forms of nature – plants, leaves, berries, seed pods, and flowers – have been interpreted and mediated by various cultures around the world, from the figurative imagery seen in Persian miniatures to the abstract patterns of Islamic ceramics, mosaics, and textiles. Bennett’s rich palette and broad-ranging formal vocabulary reflect his awareness of the multifaceted contributions of a diversity of cultures throughout the world.