Copyright Lizet Benrey . All rights reserved
TIMES OF San Diego
For Mexican-American artist and actress Lizet Benrey, the successful film career on display during San Diego Film Week is the result of pursuing a lifelong dream later in life. Two of her films, the short “Noticed” and feature-length “Carving a Life,” will be shown on March 3 and 5 during the annual event showcasing local filmmakers. Benrey comes from an artistic family, but her acting and filmmaking career didn’t take off until after she raised a family. Her late mother, Shirley Chernitsky, was a well known artist in Mexico, and Benrey followed in her footsteps. However, the daughter took her creativity to a new level. Not only is she a talented artist, she is also an actress, filmmaker and screenplay writer. Benrey was born and raised in Mexico City. Her mother was a free spirit and somewhat of a black sheep, so Benrey grew up surrounded by an artistic, Bohemian community. The famous Mexican painter Jose Luis Cuevas was a good friend of the family. While she was studying at the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City, Benrey fell in with a group of aspiring filmmakers. Some have since gone on to have successful careers in both Mexico and the United States, including her then boyfriend Alejandro Gonzalez-Iῇarritu, who won an Oscar for the movie “Birdman” in 2015. This was the beginning of her creative life. Then fate intervened. Her father brought her to San Diego to live. She finished up her degree at UC San Diego in visual arts. She also met her future husband, Francis Fuller, an engineer. Her life became one of happy domesticity raising the couple’s two sons Jonathan and Alexander. However, her artistic life wasn’t completely on hold. She continued to paint and show her work on both sides of the border. One of her proudest moments was participating in a worldwide exhibition with her mother. Benrey wanted to prove she could make it on her own, and soon began to make a name for herself while still tending to her role as a wife and mother. While her two sons were finishing high school, she began to feel restless, wanting to express some stifled creativity. Although she still loved painting, she felt a yearning to go back to her first loves: acting and filmmaking. When her mother passed away 12 years ago, she worked with Mexican director Lucy Orozco to make a documentary about her mother’s life. She describes it as a way to help process her grief. Then in 2009 Benrey decided to work on her own, and made a short film about a young, Puerto Rican-American man with Down’s syndrome titled “Hiram, Life and Rhythm.” In 2011, she started acting and appeared as Camille Claudel in Larry Caveney’s film “In Defense of Rodin.” She is particularly proud of a short film she did on the life of the Mexican painter Leonora Carrington titled “Leonora y Gabriel–An Instant.” A new chapter in her life had begun with her family fully supporting her, especially her two sons. They told her they were happy all her creative juices were flowing again. Her latest goal is to bring her artistic vision into every aspect of filmmaking. In 2017, she started a production company with Thom Michael Mulligan called “Film Dreams Entertainment.” They produced, “Noticed” and their latest project, to be completed soon, is a feature short called “The Witching Hour” Benrey is currently writing, producing and acting in her own films, as well as acting in other people’s films. She also recently collaborated with director Luis Mandoki of “Message in a Bottle” fame on three screenplays for possible future projects. “Carving a Life” will be shown on March 3 at 4 p.m. at the Digital Gym-Media Arts Center. “Noticed” will be shown on March 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Museum of Photographic Arts as part of “A Woman’s Place” shorts program. Mimi Pollack is an English as a Second Language teacher and a freelance writer.
Lizet Benrey tends to shy away from the term “filmmaker.”
“I’m really an artist making film. For me, the camera is just another brush with which to express myself.”
For the Del Mar-based painter turned video artist, it is not so much the story line that counts as the feeling and spirit of the piece.
In “Leonora and Gabriel: An Instant,” part of the Experimental Shorts program, which ran on March 15, at the San Diego Latino Film Festival, Benrey found a perfect subject in British-Mexican surrealist, the legendary Leonora Carrington.
Shot on location in Mexico City in Carrington’s home and studio, Benrey’s film is fluid collage of small moments, changes in light, glimpsed artwork and impressionistic gestures. Benrey intended the film to be a meditation on one moment in Carrington’s life as Carrington transitioned from almost ferocious devotion to surrealist sculpture and painting to passing on her art to her son and reflecting on a body of work that is as extraordinary in its breadth as it is in surrealist technique.
The film follows Carrington through her house, floats as she discusses her art with her son, and seeks out important pieces of Carrington’s work tucked away in discreet corners of her studio and hiding in plain sight in hallways.
Carrington passed away in 2011, at the age of 94, shortly after the film was finished. According to Benrey, Carrington felt the non-narrative film “captured a glimpse of my life.”
Benrey, who grew up in Mexico City, chose to follow Carrington, in part, because she met Carrington through family friends, and also because Carrington’s work deeply influenced Benrey’s own painting which she considers abstract and surrealist in nature. According to Benrey, the project was shot over several hours in a single day and then edited over a period of two weeks.
“My editor and I sat for several days talking about the project. When I showed her one of my paintings, she immediately got what I wanted to do. From there, the editing was very intuitive, and it came easily. And the music was like that, too.”
Benrey says she came to film through painting.
“I was getting frustrated. I tried different things like collage, but nothing was moving.” Benrey says she is pushed by a need to create and finds film helps keep “all the doors open.” She first studied film in Mexico City and later studied at UCSD. She credits The Media Arts Center of San Diego with helping her learn digital techniques and shooting tricks to give her the ethereal, atmospheric quality she is looking for in her projects.
According to Benrey, “Leonora and Gabriel: An Instant,” will be used to create a film loop to accompany future museum shows of the Carringtons’ work, including one in San Diego.
“It will be like a surrealist projects, no beginning and no end.”
At the moment, Benrey continues to paint and be involved in film collaborations. She is currently working on a project of 22 short films.
--Rebecca Romani is a San Diego-based documentary filmmaker and freelance journalist who has covered film and culture for a variety of publications such as Cineaste, The Levantine Review, and IPS.org.
Art, in its relationship with the world and the other, has always kept an incessant quest in order to ascertain a passage that makes us see the truth through the edge of a work. Lizet Benrey is not far from this concept. An artist labeled by a double nationality -Mexican by birth, and American by residence- her roots and daily life are intertwined. If the face of the world is polyhedral, just like light and its many gleams, dexterity in an artist consists of deciphering the threads that configure the warp of shapes. It also consists of reinterpreting the chromatic phenomena and memory contexts, the historical events involving it, and its very own spirit in connection with the breeze of days. Benrey enlightens the viewer through her plastic metaphors about serenity and passion, apparent antipodes brought together by the artist’s work.
Monotype, the graphic discipline chosen by Benrey, featuring its pictorial character, intertwines that abstract and evocative. She gives us pieces of excellent creation through which she unveils a celebrating universe. A celebration of light and opacity, but also a celebration of nostalgia and loss. The artist is an observer of the human condition and its variables; this way, between the captured movement and the fragmentation of shapes, the artist achieves a sensorial symbiosis. On one hand, the feelings of slowness, sadness; on the other, a burst of fragmentary shapes, an ode to life, by the grace taken from the fact of creation itself. Although in a first reading this artist’s work could cause the viewer to develop a certain air of disenchantment, the chromatic set with predominant notes of cold colors is subdued by an acute use of accentuating lively colors such as those of reddish, orange, loamy, and electric blue tones, that give back the viewer a sensation of a certain hope. Vitality is announced in those lines and a gesticulation lit by such gleams opens a potential way to touch life and blow a breath of life into the work, like an ember meaning to find hope, a path of light
A small work format, it is in its own powerful inner dynamism where lines and risks get sparked off. The existing relationship among the elements sets a constant tension within the composition’s core. From a fragment one can get a notion of the center; each snapshot of both the spiritual and the mundane realms opens a possibility to sense creation and destruction; thus, the plastic proposal by Lizet Benrey is clear: an incisive look (always questioning) takes one to catch a glimpse of man’s spiritual misery and his possible change, his possible redemption. That is the artist's bet, to question oneself, to set free that which has been seen, hence allowing oneself to establish a dialogue between vulnerability and strength. The work of Benrey quests far beyond the sheer piece, means to create a dialogue with its visual speaker from their soul; not only does it create in itself, but it also creates in the conscience of all who have been seen the world from its greatness and void. Thus, her work is highly human, and so small, because the art that touches the fibers of thought and heart does not need grandiloquence: it requires the brief space of that who has viewed just the necessary to give it back with the power granted by sincerity. Strength and risk, a passion for diluting herself in each work in order to get right before the viewer’s seduced eyes. Lizet Benrey creates small universes where both time and the other look in the mirror.
Translated by Gerardo Lazos
Big blockbuster films aren't just for big screen. Independent movies like The Witching Hour, a compelling psycho drama short film, are making a big splash at film festivals around the country this summer. The term "summer blockbuster" entered the movie goers consciousness in the late 1970s. Today anticipation of what the next summer blockbuster is going to be is a staple of American culture. But it is not just every major motion picture studio releasing what they hope will turn a monstrous summer profit. Independent film makers are also hoping to make their own summer blockbusters including Thom Michael Mulligan and Lizet Benrey of Film Dreams Entertainment with their independent film debut "The Witching Hour" about a husband and wife who come to realize "love follows no rules and trust is a choice". From Black Panther to Skyscraper starring the wickedly captivating Dwayne Johnson, 2018 is sure to be a blockbuster summer filled with on screen thrills. Yet many of the best film projects of the year are based on reality. "The Witching Hour" is one such film and brings an unreal kind of life of Jimmy and Mariela Callaghan to audiences around the country this summer. This is a fictional life of Jimmy Callaghan and Mariela De La Rosa Callaghan which gives the audience a glimpse into their devoted relationship as husband and wife.
Thom Michael Mulligan plays the role of Jimmy Callaghan. His acting career started at the age of seven, taking his first role on stage with his mother Marcia. Now a seasoned actor, director, producer and writer Thom has now teamed up with Lizet Benrey to create The Witching Hour. Lizet Benrey plays Mariela De La Rosa Callaghan, Jimmy's on-screen wife. Lizet was born into an artist mother and has been passionate about the arts as long as she can remember. For decades Lizet has been captivating art lovers around the world with her award winning paintings and photos as well as audiences with her acting, producing and writing.
The premier screening of "The Witching Hour" will be held at the Oceanside International Film Festival on Thursday, August 2nd, 2018 at 7:55 pm in the Sunshine Brooks Theater, in Oceanside, CA.
To learn more about "The Witching Hour", by Film Dreams Entertainment, watch the movie trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6vQqcN-j4k
Desde el Sotano magazine
Many times I ask myself what is being an artist, a way of living, a mission, a gift that only humans enjoy, the projection of this gift of creativity of imagination?
Do we choose art as our project of life, or does it choose us? Are we creators or re-creators? And when we stop creating are we no longer artists?
An artist is one who communicates and conceptualizes, that one being who is profoundly sensitive, who abstracts from reality and creates with his/her work a new universe, beyond any formal language, beyond the familiar, beyond what’s been seen, read, listened to, or felt. An artist is that one who expresses unique realities.
The creation of an art piece generally starts with the birth of an idea. Then comes the inspiration, a word that relates to that one moment full of magic inhabited by the muses, that which makes us vibrate, that which seduces us, and takes us by the hand to that one place where everything happens, where it takes physical form and shapes, that unique reality which comes from the unconscious, sometimes from the irrational. The creative process of course is not always like such, nor in that order, at least not for me. Who is the being of an artist? The one who invade us, who possesses us who call us shouting when we are not paying attention? Could it be skill or the natural capacity to produce art, maybe that which demands its development that that which resists to cease to exist? Could it be talent, inseparable mate of the thirsty impulse, hungry controlling which forces to obey its mandate, which dominates, which obligates, one which as it grows demands more? Could it be the one that converts into a mandate when it is ignored and into a blessing when its longed for? Could it be the necessity of recognition, the great illusion, being part of the change, the possibility of participation in the betterment of humanity, and for the genius the being of superiority and with its profound influence on society? Maybe it’s a mixture of everything mentioned, but I know however that based on my experience, the voice of art can be heard clear and sound, vibrant, like the speech of a loved one, although not always desired. It’s calling is powerful and envelops me, but its words are not always familiar. It’s my own essence, which convokes my artist being.
All of a sudden I begin to listen to the silence, that special silence, dense, humid, warm, alienating, seductive, that stillness that rips me away from this life and takes me to that state of meditation. The sound of silence starts little by little, crawling slowly turning off the voices of the every day life of the mundane, silencing the words until it vanishes my most loved ones. That silence wraps me protects me, sometimes subtlety, sometimes furiously, like the sound of lightning or the passion of a desperate lover.
I become an observer of life, a bit distant, even cold. I go from being completely engaged to a distant presence. The rejection to what’s around me begins, to the conventional, to everything that distracts me. The interest to the ordinary transforms into absence, into something blurry, insipid, languid, monotonous, gray, chaotic; every interruption becomes irritating. Simultaneously, life goes on, and keeps fighting forcibly for its place. And it is here in this pulling back and forth where from one second to the next, I begin to separate myself, the sound becomes clearly the calling of that being that struggles to express itself. And soon I find myself involved in the evocation.
I observe everything indifferently, the time is other, the tempo is other.
I contemplate the blank canvas in front of me, the one that reflects it all, the one that says nothing, the emptiness of space, the emptiness of terror. Soon like magic, like the most fresh breeze, the most soft, I detach in a breath. There is no order, nor rhythm, but the incubation. An idea is born, another follows and one more, until the one looked for, longed for, finally comes. I breathe fresh air, clean, crisp, and clear, alive. The infinite universe opens, filled with possibilities, free of limits, without parameters. I am here! I perceive a birth. The search for light is vital, enlightening that one idea is crucial. In the silence of the night, the muse called inspiration has taken my hand and leads me towards arduous work, almost obsessive, very constant and without pause. The sound of the brush arrives, the dance of the spatula, the rhythm, the music. The red spreads, the line laughs; the elements sensations and concepts blend in the sinuous come and go; the smell of green, the light of the shade, the world as it dies, sadness, longing, nostalgia, the steps from purple to blue, the embellishment of orange, the purity of the indigo blue. Mom you are here! In the wind, life, intuition, red again, more lines more spots, the curve’s passion, seduction, the yellow spot, instinct, rhythm, the power of love, peace, breath, sigh, fear, memory, genocides, the blackest of all blacks, injustice, grief.
Sigh, I remember my children, I remember you, my love; the family, the artists, the other painter, friends orange, more lines, romance and frustration, night, day, wind, silence, relationship, the voice of the square, the singing of the bird, rectangle, city, sun, golden, reflection of the sea, abstraction. Here I am, complete, fulfilled, engaged, surrendered, free! Life comes in through the brush. I am with you, all is one, your essence is mine, the same as the red, as the blue: coexisting, woven, all walking together, the world outside seizes to exist, there’s no separation, the inner world a perfect orchestra. The energy flows, the color intermixes, blends shouts with excitement. The taste is the moment, the breath, and the white of the scent. Everything stops, time is suspended, only the sound of the shapes is heard, color, the language of creation. I am a messenger of your imagination, defined by you, without prejudice, without pain. I find myself in the nothingness of the whole, in the kingdom of our fantasy, crowned with illusion, in ecstasy: you are with me, I exist, and I am.
I stop all of a sudden. A freezing wind, the conscience is in, I observe I take a step back: judgment, insecurity, the voice of the most severe critic, the most ferocious, mine. Harsh words, the ones that dominate, the ones that invade: the principal figure, the rational, and the ego. The music is loud, I am in my studio, and I am back. Come in, look, observe, be a part of this pain, of love, of life, of death, of my soul, of yours, see your reflection in this creation, travel, fly, smell, taste, know yourself, know me, understand me, find yourself, feel the infinite, touch that which remains, live the light of our eyes, discover me in your essence, for always, for this one instant. Imagine it all, all is possible. Silence, I breathe, I smile, the piece lives on its own, without me, I let go, there is nothing like that satisfaction, nothing! This is because in the deepest part of me inhabits the most sincere necessity, the deepest longing to share, to express, to be heard, to be understood, to be fully known by you. After sometime, the motivation, the search, the starting over, the blank canvas, the questioning, silence and its sound, the void, the enormous passion. And at the same time life calls, but your voice is much louder; you my being, with your words, I am profoundly fortunate, I listen, I am here! I am yours! You my being of creation!
There is no question that artist Lizet Benrey is concerned with the expression of vitalizing energy in her abstract work. Energy in such work is seen as propulsive, charged or diffused. There is a great sense of presencing that occurs: it is, in fact, the main event. The suggestion of incommensurables, the contemplative and the active, seemingly co-existing, are held in suspension and in uneasy harmony throughout. This interplay is realized with purposeful delicacy in a work such as Organic Blues, for example. Here, an admixture of absence and presencing pervades the pictorial surface while such integration results in evanescent, billowy passages of light.
There is another aspect, which must be referred to here, namely Benrey’s capacity to evoke a guttural ferocity and intensity through her handling of brush strokes while retaining a delicacy of handling of lights and darks, as in Birth of Space. This work, with its romanticist/symbolist tendencies offers us a sensual play of dramatic light contrasts and invokes the attainment of formerly hidden insights into divine nature. The work is both grounded and ungrounded and there is hardly a resolution, which is felt, or perceived. The picture plans are infected, affected, leavened with extraordinary life-energy which cannot be denied. Sensuality can not only be seen but also felt if one were fortunate enough to see these surfaces and their urgency and drama which Benrey portrays and displays within her charged pictorial fields, blistering as they are with pent-up vitality. This vitality vitalizes the surfaces, the dark darks and the penumbral effects onto which the artist conjures up, as in a vision, for us.
One of the virtues of abstract painting is that it isn’t about narration or story. Good abstract work resists this means of informing or persuasion. In its stead it involves the senses and the sensibilities in an unblinking homage to “here-ness’ and “there-ness’. Defying translation into data or information abstraction depends on a finely tuned interplay of knowledge, experience and sensation to decode what the work is “about.”
Lizet Benrey’s abstract artworks have a distinctive transcendental component: they suggest the recognition that change and transformation exists in all things and throughout space and time. They allude to energies (sublime and profane, earthly and heavenly) and the cosmic wheel which unites such polarities. With all of that, Benrey’s artworks are enigmatic. They are problematic to classify in terms of format. And this is not a bad thing at all.
Compact in size yet outsized in their visual effects, her pieces start their lives as monoprints on paper whose forms and tonalities are then worked into or are covered up or are extrapolated upon using litho ink, pencil and pastel oil-sticks. The artist uses a variety of tools with which she makes her marks. In effect and affect, the artist’s visual explorations read very much as paintings, not works on paper (monotypes) in the common understanding of the word. They have the authoritative feel of painting. The poetry of touch and of sensation informs these works. By this I mean that there is a direct visceral approach to mark making which Benrey applies to her work. While the layering and the rupturing of the painterly surface of paint onto the paper clearly has something to do with these sensations as well.
Benrey’s are in a sense constructed artworks. They are devised using both systematic processes and ordered responses to what appears before her while favoring just at the right time and in the right way chance and randomness. That is to say her works are the result of a superb confidence in the rightness of intuition to do its job effectively. Their surfaces recall the vulnerability of draughtsmanship and of printing on paper with the toughness and resilience of painting on stretched and primed canvas. Benrey’s artworks are intense; their episodic handling of details is counterbalanced by visually operatic effects stemming from the application and juxtaposition of light values as seen in Illuminated Path, for example.
This being said, her works, not surprisingly, are effective carriers of (often mixed) emotions. Her assured inventiveness of her forms and coloristic handling suggests that a great deal of faith is invested in channeling the high level of unpredictability of the mark-making which courses through each work. There are surprises in store for the viewer, whether it be in the deft manner the artist conjures up space and place in As the Waters Part, the evanescent detailing of Infinity, or the atonal quality of a work such as Transcendence which signals an abnegation of constraints and a collapse of closed systems or the near-performative twisting and slipping of painterly volumes in Decoding.
One of the predominate visual themes in Lizet Benrey’s work is the artist’s provocatively heightened use of dramatized light and shadow analogous to a sense of all-pervading insight which seems to have been deployed to do battle with forces of darkness. The light and the energetic strokes create a field which dramatizes the presence of two or more conflicting forces or sources. Visual dramatization is set loose in such works. What intermeshes are slow emanations and subsequent revelations of pure perception with reverie. These ruminatively poetic images cannot be forced open, nor read immediately. As slow constellations, they unfold in their own time, magisterially, while the viewer’s eye scans the works’ surfaces, suffused colors, and forms. The artist ably controls such interiorized world with finesse and tension, wondrously combined.
Lizet Benrey’s pictorial voice is equivalent to that of a light mezzo-soprano; the audible record of her paintings is able to solve the most elaborated ornaments in that complex musical score known as life, which are banned to other voices. Her art allows our eyes to listen; in a single blow a profound revelation permeates to our very soul thorough the enviable harmony of her concretion.
Her paintings are randomly festive hymns, sorrow arias, poetry, synthesis, echoes of a dream, the core of a protest, reflection or confession; but each one of them is inhabited by that subjugating musicality that only she can utter. Her paintbrush is an alchemist in search of big answers and once we have contemplated her work it sheds light on a new course for us.
SAN DIEGO– An artistic streak runs in Lizet Benrey’s family. Her late mother, Shirley Chernitsky, was a painter, and Benrey has followed in her footsteps. However, Benrey takes her creativity one step further. Not only is she a talented artist, she is also a filmmaker, actress, and a budding screenplay writer.
Benrey was born and raised in Mexico City. Living with her mother who was a free spirit and somewhat of a black sheep, she grew up surrounded by an artistic community. The Mexican painter, Jose Luis Cuevas [his work has been exhibited at the Tasende gallery in La Jolla], was a good friend of the family. While she was studying at Universidad Iberoamericana, she fell in with a group of fellow artists and filmmakers, some who have since gone on to have successful careers in both Mexico and the United States, including Alejandro Gonzalez-Iñarritú who along with Guillermo Arriaga made the movie Amores Perros, considered to be the Mexican “Pulp Fiction”. This was a very happy period in her life.
Then, fate intervened, and her father brought her to San Diego to live. She finished up her BA at UCSD in Visual Arts. She also met her future husband, Francis Fuller, an engineer. They have two sons, Jonathan and Alexander. She began a life of happy domesticity taking care of her husband and raising her two sons.
However, her artistic life wasn’t completely on the back burner. She continued to paint and show her work on both sides of the border. She confided that one of her proudest moments was working on a worldwide exhibition with her mother called, “Women Beyond Borders” in 1995. That was the only time they exhibited together. Benrey wanted to prove she could make it on her own, and soon she began to make a name for herself while still attending to her roles as a wife and mother.
While her two sons were finishing up high school, she said she began to feel restless, and wanted to express some of that stifled creativity. Although she still loved painting, she felt a yearning to go back to her first love, film making.
When her mother passed away eight years ago, she worked together with Mexican director Lucy Orozco to make a documentary about her mother’s life. She also narrated it. She said it was a way to help her process the grief. In 2009, Benrey decided to work on her own, and made a short film about a young, Puerto Rican-American man with Down’s syndrome called Hiram, Life and Rhythm. In 2011, she started acting and appeared as Camille Claudel in Larry Caveney’s film In Defense of Rodin. She also let it be known that she takes great pride in a short film she did on the life of the Mexican painter, Leonora Carrington. It is called Leonora y Gabriel- An Instant.
Benrey said she feels a new chapter in her life has begun and her family fully supports her, especially her two sons. They told her they were happy all her creative juices were flowing again. Her latest goal is to bring her artistic vision into every aspect of filmmaking. Artists usually don’t work on films, but Benrey wants to follow in the footsteps of Julian Schnabel, an artist who went into filmmaking [The Diving Bell and The Butterfly]. He inspired her, and she is able to finance her work using the money she earns as an artist. She said she feels like a new world is opening up to her and that she is excited about her future creations.
Benrey has started writing her own films and is currently working on a screenplay for three short films, along with co-writing a screenplay with a well-known director in Hollywood. She said that right now she cannot say much about this project, but she is very excited about it.
This director is helping to bring her visualizations as an artist and painter into writing, she said. One can see that in a sense, her life has come full circle as this director was one of her ‘cohorts’ back when she was a university student in Mexico. If all goes as planned, the movie should go into production soon, so stay tuned.
Pollack is a freelance writer based in San Diego.
Arts & Culture
Del Mar Times
The place in which Lizet Benrey creates is worlds apart from the one in which she lives.
The Carmel Valley artist laces her canvases with bright colors and bold, abstract forms, boasting influences of Japanese calligraphy and Mexican modern art. And yet, the pieces are created in a studio on a peaceful cul-de-sac, inside her house, which is virtually indistinguishable from hundreds around it.
Rather than seeing the apparent homogeneity as a handicap, Benrey sees San Diego as the perfect place to forge her own artistic identity.
Benrey is a third-generation artist. Her maternal grandfather painted in secret, quietly amassing an impressive body of work, and her mother, Shirley Chernitsky, was a renowned visual artist in Mexico.
Each inspired the young Benrey, who was always interested in art. But, she found it difficult to climb out of their shadows, particularly the one cast by her mother.
“I would always look at her art and think of what I would do differently to make it my own,” Benrey said. “She (Chernitsky) influenced me, but I always struggled with my work having a life of its own. And it was very hard, because I was so used to her traces and colors and lines that I automatically did my work a little bit like hers, but I would throw them away if it was too much like hers.”
To escape the pull, Benrey investigated other art forms, working in acting, filmmaking, jewelry and sculpture after leaving Mexico City to study at Boston University.
“I did not want to paint,” she said.
But, the desire was unavoidable. No matter what she was working on, she said, “All I wanted to do was go back to my room and paint.”
Benrey moved to San Diego and completed her studies at UCSD in 1988, and has lived in the area ever since. She now lives in Carmel Valley with her husband and two children.
Benrey’s style is constantly shifting and fluid. She devoted her work to the human figure for years before changing to the abstract, color-dominated form it takes now.
Benrey started abstracting the figures in her work until they began disappearing completely, but would sometimes add a vague aspect of the human form as a type of reminder of the work she did before.
“The figure is so beautiful, but I truly believe abstract works are very universal,” Benrey said. “It’s more about a feeling and a moment, They’re more like unspoken words.”
Most recently, Benrey’s work has begun reflecting on her interest in world religions and a renewed interest in more realistic depictions, which she said is appropriate for this point in her life.
“The motive is changing a little bit,” she said. “I got so abstract — too abstract — and I’m coming back to a little bit of an intention. I feel like the world needs to hold on to something right now. There’s so many tragedies that they just really want to hold on to some symbolic thing that gives them a little more faith.”
Benrey’s work has stretched far beyond the borders of southern California, to galleries and shows from Serbia to New York City to Tijuana. She is a part of the multicultural exhibition “Women Beyond Borders,” which toured the world for more than a decade.
She has also participated in as many as 10 shows annually for the last five years.
Last year, with Lucy Orozco as Director, Benrey produced the documentary Shirley Chernitsky: Burst of Imagination, chronicling her mother’s life.
Her upcoming work includes a solo show of “intentional art pieces” at the New Art Center in New York City.
Benrey said it is sometimes difficult to work in Carmel Valley, particularly because the school system holds her children here while her work forces so much travel.
“It’s challenging in a good way,” she said. “Being here makes me want to go inside of myself … (and) I found out it’s really not just about me. And so, because my family is very happy here it helps me to be calmer.”
Arts & Culture
Painting our Earth in the balance
Nature serves as Lizet Benrey’s muse, and her paintings often depict her love for our planet. “I've been environmentally conscious my whole life,” Benrey said. “With global warming, I'm inspired to paint the earth and its beauty because I believe that if you love the earth, you won't destroy it.”
Her recent solo show, “Tribute to the Earth,” typifies her commitment to the planet — a commitment that she even applies to her painting supplies. Benrey uses organic materials whenever possible and tries to minimize her use of solvents whenever she paints.
She uses lithographic ink to create monoprints on 22-by-30-inch paper, but she also enjoys working with oils, acrylics and mixed media on canvases.
She began painting when she was still a little girl in Mexico City. By age 7, she was studying art with her mother, Shirley Chernitsky, a well-known artist.
“She taught me how to be free with painting and just go for it,” Benrey said. “That was a big lesson.” Benrey didn't immediately choose painting as her career, though. She experimented with different forms of artistic expression first, including filmmaking, acting and photography. Surrounded by her mother’s many talented friends in the tight-knit artistic community, Benrey never lacked for willing mentors. Her home was alive with a host of famous writers, filmmakers and painters, who talked incessantly about their various creative pursuits. Benrey’s own creative spirit soaked it all up. “Whatever I chose, they were there for me,” she said. “They were supportive in whatever I wanted to do, and there was no pressure to be a painter.” Looking back, Benrey said that they influenced her most with their freedom of expression and their courage to express what they wanted to say in a daring way. As much as Benrey cherished all that she learned from her mentors, she realized that she needed to be on her own to find her own artistic path. But it wasn't until she began studying at Boston University that she finally settled on painting as her career. She moved to San Diego to be near her father and earned a degree in Visual Arts from UCSD.
After graduation, she worked in graphic arts before marrying her husband, Francis. They settled in Carmel Valley 15 years ago when it was still an underdeveloped area, and Benrey fell in love with the remote location and the solitude that she found there.
“I treasure the solitude and can't paint when there are many people around,” she said. “The less influence I have, the better I paint.” Three years ago, Benrey’s mother passed away, and that great loss inspired a strong shift in her painting style. “We were very close, so I tried to imagine where she went, and then I tried to paint it,” Benrey said.
Prior to her mother’s passing, Benrey used to paint in a realistic manner, but after she lost her, she began painting abstracts. “This came from the realization that nothing is tangible, so we can't really hold onto anything because what’s real now,, won't be real later — it just changes and transforms,” she said. “It makes more sense to me to try to paint what we can't really see or touch — only what we can imagine.” “Kabbalah Visions” was the fruit of Benrey’s loss, and her series of paintings opened as a solo show in New York City earlier this year.
According to Benrey, Kabbalah is a philosophy based on Jewish mysticism that explains the Old Testament and how people can use it in their lives. Paintings in her series include “Organic Blues,” “Birth of Space” and “Transcendence.”
Benrey’s artistic goal is to make a social statement with her work. Her “Tribute to the Earth” series, which recently closed at San Diego’s Perry L. Meyer’s Fine Art, was her first step in the process. “I would really like people to experience the beauty of the earth and the meaning of it,” she said. “It is so much more than just putting my work in a gallery to me because we need to change and be more conscious of why we’re here and what we’re doing here.” See Benrey’s work at www.lizetbenrey.com.