At work in Boothbay Harbor: Assemblage artist André Benoit
Winding roads with picturesque views, and then a steep gravel drive, lead to artist André Benoit’s scenic studio property in Boothbay Harbor. It is a sunny spring day and he has just finished “Rub a dub dub,” a wood assemblage depicting three men in a tub, rowing against one another, spiraling and spinning.
His studio is a 30-foot x 30-foot two-story workshop packed with finished art, materials and tiny bits and pieces of scrap metal and furniture and antiques. To the naked eye, it is a hot mess. To Benoit, it is teeming with opportunities.
“Everything, even the paint, is recycled,” he said. “With orderliness not being a priority, entropy has often been incorporated intentionally or found its way into my recent foray in wooden sculpture assemblage—often eliminating the fixed focal points of my earlier drybrush watercolor and, in the past two decades, my work with oil and acrylic renderings. In this new physical and dimensional medium, I have renewed and invigorated my artistic drive. Wood remnants, flotsam and jetsam from the shoreline, trim-work from renovated homes, and broken and discarded furniture – what I most enjoy about my work with salvaged materials are the stories behind my acquisition of them, and the opportunity to meld unrelated pieces into a composition that commands a second look.”
A narrow footpath leads through the studio. That “second look” Benoit described reveals a “second life” for items in finished artwork.
Benoit, a Mainer from Cape Elizabeth, is retired. He was a physician in Boothbay for 35 years and has treated countless locals including delivering an estimated 30 babies on the peninsula. He has studios in Switzerland and Cliff Island, but his primary location is here in Boothbay Harbor.
Benoit has been a plein air painter all his life, working with oils and watercolor. He was inspired by natural surroundings in the Adirondacks and along Maine’s coast – starting with his family’s summer cottage on Cliff Island and sailing to Monhegan and other islands. Benoit’s studio on Cliff Island features work in driftwood and recycled furniture. His work can be found in the summer months at Cliff Island Store & Café, just north of the ferry landing as well as his studio.
Benoit works outdoors as weather allows. “I have a carpe diem approach to life.”
He stopped painting on canvas or panels in his mid-60s, preferring the 3-dimensional stylings of assemblage with materials from recycling centers. Early in his assemblage period, he harvested scrap materials from Hodgdon’s boatyard on Fridays after its weekly shop cleanups. He began collecting wood remnants in intriguing shapes, often in teak and mahogany used in shipbuilding. He showed samples of scorched and sandblasted wood he recently retrieved from Bath Iron Works.
“In Switzerland it was more difficult to acquire remnants,” he said. Switzerland’s emphasis on natural aesthetic meant unused and unwanted materials could not be found just lying around. Assemblages during his Swiss period reflect what he could find – pinecones and disassembled wine crates. Galerie Alpine (https://www.galeriealpine.com/andre-e-benoit) still holds a collection of Benoit’s work across Lac Léman from Geneva.
“The challenge with assemblage sculpture is durable attachment,” he said. “Vulnerable pieces are glued and reinforced with screws. I try to hide screws everywhere I can, but sometimes they’re visible. People often ask if the art can be hung outside. It can. It’s going to weather the same as anything exposed to the elements.”
Painting on the assemblages highlights Benoit’s relationship with “incompleteness” as an artistic expression. “I could paint the entire surface, but drawing attention to the incompleteness of paint saturation and working with patina makes the pieces more interesting.”
When painting on a flat surface, the challenge is creating depth and perspective. He explained, his vision at his age has caused him to reduce and distill down to the essence of what is necessary to convey his perceptions of the subject, fostering a greater connection to impressionistic work in 3D assemblage.
Entropy is often used to describe Benoit’s work: Harmony and fluidity of materials in conjunction with well-considered, secure placement. Entropy comes from the unpredictability of materials used. Each work of art is an invitation to identify materials, learn the story behind their acquisition and appreciate each remnant’s contribution to the work of art.
Benoit’s work can be found all over the state in galleries, inns, shops, libraries and museums – this year in Wiscasset, Edgecomb, Damariscotta, Ogunquit, Rangeley, Scarborough, Portland, Freeport, Rockland, Camden, Lincolnville, Northport, Belfast and Blue Hill.
June 19, Benoit is accepting 12 students for a one-day assemblage class offered through Maine Art Gallery in Wiscasset: https://www.maineartgallerywiscasset.org/service-page/wood-assemblage?referral=service_list_widget