Journey of an artist

At the recent “In Conversation with the Artist” evening at the National Gallery, held in conjunction with the Cayman Arts Festival, Bendel sat down with curator Natalie Urquhart to talk more about the collection and his journey as an artist. The busy event was the attended by approximately 75 art enthusiasts who were given an insight into Bendel’s subject matter, career and technique.  

When creating his series Circumnavigating the Globe, artist Bendel Hydes took an imaginary journey around the world.  

Bendel described the collection as both a reference to the extensive maritime travels of his Caymanian forefathers and his own a spiritual journey.  

Starting at 90-60 degrees West, the meridians that locate both the Cayman Islands and the artist’s adopted city New York, the twelve paintings each represent 30 degrees of longitude, centring on an individual area of interest and meandering north or south as they cross each meridian. Displayed in sequence, they travel eastward in the direction of the earth’s rotation: to the Sargasso Sea, the Baltic, the Middle East, India and back to North America and Mexico. Each location reflects a unique colour sequence that draws upon cultural references and the artists own emotions, some peaceful and others, like the Middle Eastern work, vibrant and chaotic.  

Describing his process as the “geography of spatial colour combined with a vocabulary of semi-figurative shapes and symbols”, Bendel spoke of striving to address such issues as topographical changes, isolation, beauty, vulnerability and the character of place to traverse the boundary between physical abstraction and emotional reality, thus forming the narrative that binds the work together.  

These large, luminous works seem perfectly at home in the new temporary gallery, transforming the area into a place of quiet reflection. Fittingly, given the evening’s partnership with the Cayman Arts Festival, an audience member compared the experience of viewing the work in the new space to “listening to a symphony”, as if the exhibition hall had transformed itself into a concert hall.  

Bendel went on to describe his journey as an artist first starting with his early years in Cayman, later in the UK, and finally in the vibrant arts community of New York. His unique form of abstraction, he explained, is the result of years of experimenting first with semi-figurative work and later in pure abstraction.  

“My work is concerned primarily with the sensory world of sight, sound and touch and in the visual metaphors thereby produced to cerebrally enhance physical and conceptual possibilities. Mostly through painting, I use the language of translucent and biomorphic abstraction to explore ways in which nature and culture interact, reflecting on both the rational and ritualistic concerns of perceiving these opposites.” 

Taking questions from the audience, he shared his signature technique, which involves adding layer upon layer of diluted colour, starting first with the canvas on the floor before later adding details from a vertical position.  

“Whether it is applying continuous washes and drips of colour over another, sculpting and mixing paint with another substance, or in the gesture, my aim is to question the aesthetics of the materials I use,” said the artist.  

Speaking of his exhibition as the first inside the new National Gallery, Bendel expressed his delight with the new location.  

“It is a wonderful experience to witness the blossoming of such an important institution,” he said. “We have many epochs of change to look forward to in our country and with the growth of cultural expression, we will mobilise and train the untapped undercurrent of feelings that keep us balanced as a society.” 

Bendel Hydes

Bendel Hydes, background right, discusses his work at the National Gallery’s Meet and Greet.