Benicia Arsenal Artists Host
A popular attraction returns to Benicia this summer with the Benicia Arsenal Artists Open Studios, taking place on Saturday and Sunday, June 11 and 12.
Visitors are invited to meet over 40 artists in their working studio spaces in the historic Benicia Arsenal, where artists will display, sell, and talk about their work.
The Arsenal is a former US Army base with beautiful architecture dating from the Civil War which became home to many artists and small businesses after the Army vacated the base in the 1960s. A number of nationally acclaimed painters, glass blowers, and ceramicists put Benicia’s artist community on the map in the 1970s and it has continued to flourish for the past fifty years. Some artists have lived and worked in the Arsenal for more than 30 years.
Open Studios has been a long-time feature of the Arsenal artists and Arts Benicia, the non-profit visual arts organization who has long anchored the Arsenal space and hosted a broad, city-wide open studios program each spring for over 25 years until COVID19 interrupted the continuous run.
This year, the artists themselves are hosting and producing the event, which is focused on the Arsenal area.
Nationally known landscape and figurative painter Randall Sexton, who relocated his studio from Crockett to Benicia in late 2020, is heading this year’s event. “This place is so full of history, quirky stories, amazing light, and views for painting,” Sexton said. “It’s an inspiration for artists, and a fun and unusual place for visitors to explore as well.”
As a relative newcomer in Benicia, Sexton is motivated to meet people from this area and introduce them to his artwork. His subjects range from everyday still life compositions, urban interiors and landscapes, to intimate portraits, and painterly depictions of natural settings, many painted “en plein air” (outdoors). Some works capture the subject in a highly realistic manner, while others are impressionistic or abstract. “Painting has enabled me to be more observant and appreciative of the beauty and richness in everyday life.”
Sculptor Mike Wittels will display his tabletop sculptures, two-dimensional reliefs, and large ongoing installations which mainly incorporate post-use plastics. “I use industrial heat guns as sculpting tools. My aim is to create novel forms rather than to repeat those that other artists have developed. Although my art may refer in some ways to waste and recycling, it is not about those things. For me, art is not about something; it is something.”
Vicki Dennis, an acrylic and collage artist, is one of the newer artists in the Arsenal. “Open Studios was one of the first things I learned about when I moved to Benicia in 2014. Open Studios gives me a chance to talk to people interested in art, to chat with them about my processes and techniques, color and themes in my work.” Dennis, retired from a long career as a writer and public relations consultant, is mainly self-taught. “I always considered myself to be a storyteller. These days, I use pigment, paper and water to tell stories instead of using words.”
Jan Blythe has been living and working in the Bay Area as an artist and textile designer for the past fifteen years. Originally from Glasgow, Scotland, her current work includes painting, creating installations, sculpture and works on paper. “I collect stuff. My studio is bursting at the seams with things that I’ve gathered from flea markets, hardware stores and nature.” Blythe incorporates these things into works that are abstract or may reference nature or the human form. “The thread that runs through all my work is the process of experimentation, with a sense of play and curiosity.”
Artist studios are located at 940 Tyler Street, 991 Tyler Street, and along Jackson Street from 991 to 1075, and are open from 10am to 5pm each day.
Participating artists include abstract, figurative and landscape painters, printmakers, sculptors, photographers, stained glass and mixed media artists, fashion designers, and more. Parking is plentiful.
Additionally, Arts Benicia is participating through its two Arsenal locations. Ten Arts Benicia Printmakers are displaying their mono-prints, etchings, woodblocks, lino-cuts, and fine art prints at 991 Tyler Street, Suite #116. Printing demonstrations will be given on both Saturday and Sunday. Arts Benicia is also hosting the printmakers in a gallery exhibition at its main gallery location, the Commanding Officer’s Quarters, 1 Commandant’s Lane. A second exhibition at Arts Benicia, titled Tattoo You, features approximately 40 artworks selected by juror Kevin B. Chen related to the art of tattoo design and application.
Benicia’s first downtown Art Walk of 2022 also coincides with the event on Saturday, June 11. From 1 to 5pm the participating First Street galleries will welcome locals and out-of-town visitors to view member artists’ works and feature demonstrations and special activities.