Bennett Slater said he never thought much about his art — it just came naturally.
“From my earliest memories of colouring books, I never questioned why I liked it,” said the Sarnia native and globally recognized artist, now living in Toronto.
“My dad was a teacher and we always had a lot of paper around, so I would just colour and draw for hours. I never considered it a calling or anything; I was just like, ‘Doesn’t everybody do this?’”
The graduate of St. Christopher’s Secondary (now St. Pat’s) said his former teachers were instrumental in his career path — from Mrs. (Marilyn) Orr encouraging him to apply to the prestigious Sheridan College and obtain a Bachelor of Illustration degree, to tech teacher Mr. (Robert) Walicki, who encouraged Slater to enter an Ontario poster contest and drove him to Windsor to present to a judging panel (he won first place).
“When other people see something in you and your work — that’s what keeps you motivated to keep going,” he said.
Slater works in graphic design “to help pay the bills” but painting remains his true passion. And it keeps him busy, fielding requests from some of the most prestigious art galleries in the world, including a recent solo show at the Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles.
“It’s the biggest show I’ve ever done,” Slater said of the Halloween-themed exhibit ‘Giving up the Ghost,’ which featured 20 traditional oil-on-wood pieces painted in a highly realistic style.
“Halloween is my absolute favourite time of year and fall in Southwestern Ontario is so beautiful,” he said, pointing to a theme of old-and-new that runs through his work.
“It’s a combination of classic imagery and folklore imagery, mixed with kitsch style.”
It took Slater a year — and a lot of self-discipline — to prepare for the show, which debuted last November.
“That means a lot of cancelled plans with friends and weekends. It takes a lot to focus to stay committed and inspired by a single idea,” he said. “But I had one of the best years of my life creating that work.
“You want to still be loving the work when you’re putting the last paint stroke on your 20th painting — and if you’re not enjoying it then you’re in the wrong business.”
He has more pieces in the works these days following requests from group show organizers in Australia, San Francisco and London, England.
“I’m in the lucky position where I’ve never really had to reach out to galleries to show with them — it’s basically them seeing my work somewhere else, and trying to see if my work will work with their fan base and collector base,” he said.
In fact, he’s never had a show in Toronto or his hometown.
“No other reason than no Toronto gallery has every reached out to me to show here,” he said with a laugh. “Same goes for Sarnia.”
His next goal is to take on the film industry — that is, creating the poster art for a big movie or television show.
“That would be a dream job for me — to have my imagery tied to someone else’s work like that,” he said. “Trying to do something new, something interesting that hasn’t been done, and putting it out there and seeing how people react to it.”