Vincent Bennett (1910-1993)Contact the gallery for available works
When Vincent Bennett died in 1993 he left behind a studio of paintings, few of which had ever been exhibited outside the West of England. His dislike of publicity, a stubborn unwillingness to conform and, to a certain extent, his own complacency, meant that the work of an extraordinary artist has remained largely unknown. In 2001 John Martin Gallery put on a memorial show of the artists paintings, prints and drawings.
Examples of the artist’s work are shown on this page. For further information please see ‘Previous Exhibitions’ above.
`They will have none of me in the Municipal Art Gallery, I don’t blame them. I don’t like a lot of these paintings myself.’
When Vincent Bennett died in 1993 he left behind a studio of paintings, few of which had ever been exhibited outside the West of England. His dislike of publicity, a stubborn unwillingness to conform and, to a certain extent, his own complacency, meant that the work of an extraordinary artist has remained largely unknown.
Vincent Bennett was born in Plymouth in 1910. Showing some early creativity, his father, Samuel Bennett, enrolled him at the Plymouth Technical and Art School (where he met the young Cecil Collins with whom he remained in contact throughout his life). Samuel Bennett, had been invalided out of the shipyards after a crane fell on him, and was determined that Vincent should have some other skill to fall back on should the precarious life of a painter not prove successful. It was either brilliant foresight or a profound understanding of his son’s character that the two skills he insisted upon were drumming tuition from a Royal Marine bandsman, and boxing lessons at Mr Ballard’s local gym.
Having left the art school with no qualifications he moved to London in 1929 where he worked as a scenery painter and designer of small-scale theatre sets and extravagant displays in department stores. Soon the work dried up and he was forced into trying his hand at professional boxing, making one appearance at the Albert Hall. In Bennett’s unfinished autobiography (written in the third person) he recalled his short-lived career as a pugilist “participating in four contests, winning three by being able to run backwards faster than his opponents could run forwards. The fourth contest remained a mystery to Vincent, who suffered total amnesia as a result of what he concluded was a severe beating.”. A couple of nights sleeping rough on The Embankment persuaded him to return to Plymouth.
Here he began to make a reputation for himself as a jazz drummer whilst continuing some evening tuition at the art school. He enjoyed the improvisation and freedom he found in jazz music and for his painting, the experiences of nightlife in the rougher Plymouth bars provided him with a mine of scenes and characters that would later reappear in his work: “Saturday nights were `Combat Nights’. A struggling mass of sailors and marines filled the large floor of the public bar. The musicians pulled up the ladder, making the stage an island of safety, and the pianist broke into `fight music’ as played in the silent cinema.”.
In 1945 he married Mary Hemingway and it was largely her support both emotional and financial (her teacher’s salary proving the main source of income to the family) that enabled Bennett to concentrate and develop his painting over the next twenty-five years. In his art he created an extraordinary fantasy world; a strange hybrid of his own memories and stories from the American cinema. When his health started to decline in the 1980’s his work becomes more hurried – a determination to continue painting as long as he could as if to free himself from the images locked inside his imagination. Throughout, Mary Bennett has maintained an unshakeable faith in Bennett’s work as an artist and this display of his painting, the first to be held in London, is not only a tribute to a remarkable and original artist, but to the support and encouragment that she. I am grateful both to Mary and to Jayne Desmond, who has catalogued and researched the paintings, for their help with this exhibition.
John Martin, 2001