As a student, seeking respite from the relatively hidebound painting department, I often retreated to the sculpture studios. There, the critical gaze of teachers seemed less intense; sculpture students did as they pleased. Around that time about a decade ago, I took Beginning Sculpture from Krysten Cunningham, who fostered critical dialogue around fundamental techniques of welding and casting. A recent visit to her Los Angeles studio, as well as that of her neighbor Maura Bendett, and the spacious loft of Camilla Taylor, revived the sense of freedom that I felt as a painter approaching sculpture.
Perhaps, then, it is no coincidence that two of these sculptors began as 2D artists. Painting and printmaking imply certain sets of media; a sculpture, however, can be nearly anything. Yet sculpture is often yoked to a limited set of usually rigid media: metal or stone, for instance; and frequently chained to a sense of machismo. Bendett, Cunningham and Taylor are forging their own paths. Each uses materials commonplace to everyday life, but not to sculpture. Their diverse oeuvres share other basic commonalities: an emphasis on the handmade; engrossments with human and animal societies. From Maura Bendett’s alien ecosystems to Krysten Cunningham’s dynamic weavings to Camilla Taylor’s somber humanoids, their individual concoctions frequently exude an almost animate presence. All three once contemplated pursuing scientific occupations. Like a researcher, each approaches her art as an open-ended investigation.
Near an intersection flanked by a stately old manse and a liquor store on a busy stretch of West Washington Boulevard, where sidewalks meet buildings embellished with historic ornament and fresh graffiti, Bendett’s studio occupies a block interlaced with razor wire and ivy.
Bendett’s laissez-faire practice has been guided by her lifelong awe of nature. Fascinated by insects, she originally considered a career in entomology before determining that “it’s mostly about working for extermination companies.” Instead, she decided to become an artist.
As a painting student in UCLA’s MFA program, she took glassblowing and soon became enchanted, spending every spare hour forming alien-like blobs in the hot shop.
This foray affected her painting, which increasingly involved sculptural elements and shaped canvases.
Upon graduating in 1987, she found that she wanted to move beyond making art about art, and returned to her core interests, beginning with her penchant for insects: “I felt it was like looking at little dinosaurs. It was like looking at something beyond humanity—way beyond.”
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Image: Maura Bendett, Tall Sculpture, 2013, museum board, acrylic, hot glue, cement, 63 x 27 x 27″, courtesy Edward Cella Art + Architecture.
Los Angeles-based artist Maura Bendett is a faculty member in the Foundation and Creative Action programs and has been teaching at Otis since 2002. Bendett's work has been exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Santa Monica Museum of Art, COCA-Seattle and many others. Most recently her sculptures and drawings were on view at Edward Cella Art + Architecture.