It seems to me that there are generalists and there are specialists. I've always been a generalist — I'm interested in so many things that I've never taken the time to get really good at anything. My life is a litany of unfinished projects and grandiose dreams that never come to fruition. It's frustrating at times, but it doesn't bother me so much that I'm willing to give up the kick I get out of learning a little bit about lots of things.
However, I do sometimes envy the specialist who spends a lifetime driven by a particular passion, perfects an art form and spends all of their time with it, completing hundreds of projects. I have to create a special category for the artist I met last weekend though — that of general specialist.
Yael Bentovim has worked with fiber all of her life, but the way that she works with it has metamorphosed over the years. Asked where the interest came from, she talks about the fact that she'd learned to crochet when she was three years old. She grew up in Israel in the '50s, not an easy place to be at that time, and needlework was a satisfying escape.
When she came to the United States to study art, she discovered fiber art and stuck with it, receiving her MA in Environmental Fiber Art. "My graduate show consisted of several large room-size fiber constructed environments," she says. "I used crochet, weaving, wrapping and knotting. Looking back I marvel at the youthful energy and enthusiasm that empowered me to create such massive constructions."
She worked principally with a loom, and then one day found that she'd lost interest. "No one told me that someday I might not want to do this anymore," she says. It was a difficult time for her, but the result was that she moved on to invent her own method of using fiber.
Weaving is labor-intensive, tedious and has its limits. While a good weaver can achieve a lot of painterly effects, you have to do so according to the parameters that the loom sets for you. It's a marvelous art form, but one can also see why Yael wanted to break free of those confines.
"I devised a technique of shredding raw sisal and then dying it with bright colors," she says. Using the bits of dyed sisal, she finds she can work more directly, in effect "painting" with the fiber.
Her technique is not better, just different and better suited to her way of working. Her work is to weaving what Seurat's pointillism was to traditional brush stroke painting. And although it still involves a lot of preparation, it allows her to get to the creating process a lot more directly.
Her studio is a wonderland of interesting, beautiful oddments. When she's looking for inspiration, she wanders about picking up things and discovering them anew. There may be a bucket full of small ceramic chips that she's glazed and fired, bits of colored glass, beach pebbles, silk cord, grasses and other found objects, and of course bags and bags of the sisal dyed in wonderfully rich, saturated colors. She has also incorporated a variety of other mediums — painting, photography, ceramics, mosaic, papermaking and sculpting — in her fiber works. This is why I call her a general specialist.
Yael is a relative new comer to Humboldt County. She moved up here from Los Angeles about four years ago. It's interesting to see how being here has affected her work. Her current show, at the Arcata Marsh Interpretive Center, reflects the blue green wateriness of the Marsh itself.
The absorption of her new surroundings has been primarily an unconscious process, according to Yael. "I am not always aware of being observant and I think my mind often takes a back seat," she says. "Often when I work without a specific intention I surprise myself when a work reflects a visual experience that was 'stored' somewhere inside me."
My take on it is that this unique environment has made its imprint on the artist and her work is already taking on the feel of Humboldt County.
Her show at the Arcata Marsh Interpretive Center will be up through the month, so the next time you go there to take a walk, take some extra time to go into the building and have a look. It's relaxing to just gaze at the art and slowly recognize all of the parts that make up the piece, and then let them come together again into the picture. Yael also has a website — www.yaelbentovim.com — but be advised that looking at her work on a computer is not the same as the real thing.
A couple of other thingshappening this weekend: First, 10 students from the Arts Institute, with the help of two guest teachers, have published an illustrated book, The Encyclopedia of Nonsensical Ambiguity. You can meet the artists and get a signed copy at Northtown Books this Friday, Jan. 25, from 7 to 9 p.m., or find it online at www.lulu.com/content/1378973. The Arcata Arts Institute website is www.artsinstitute.net.
Want to explore your inner landscape, or at least find out what an inner landscape might be? A three-week class led by Lorraine Miller-Wolf starts Tuesday, Jan. 29, running from 6 to 7:30 p.m., promising, "an opportunity to experience fun, non-threatening art projects that allow you to connect with your inner self." You don't need any art experience and materials are provided. Lorraine guarantees you'll have a good time. The class is run through the Arcata Parks and Rec. Department, so you can register by calling them at 822-7091 or online at www.cityofarcata.org/rec/.