Husk Bennett on how lockdown connected student artists across the UK

Bleach, paint, washing detergent and other household items feature in the work of Husk Bennett, the second artist in our series exploring how Manchester School of Art students are reacting to the pandemic and lockdown.

Bennett is a multimedia artist who incorporates pop culture into his large-scale paintings. He says: “Despite using recognisable motifs in my paintings, I am often engaged in the idea that the subject and the actual content of the painting can be completely different and read in a multitude of ways.”

Originally from Belfast, Bennett has been living in Rusholme whilst studying Fine Art and History at Manchester School of Art.

Painting of clown face by Husk Bennett
Artwork by Husk Bennett

Lockdown is causing considerable disruption to the ways in which Bennett creates his art and how his audience consumes it. “I’m planning to work on videos for our digital shows because they’re automatically optimised for viewing online,” he says. “I don’t think you can grasp a painting from [online] images. The same goes for sculpture, performance… most art really.”

“As a response to lockdown, I’ve started to make a lot of videos of me doing really banal things – like a lot of people are anyway,” Bennett explains. “My own art practice is ever changing and unresolved, but the shift from working five or six days a week in a studio space to working at home, in a bedroom or my backyard, has played a huge part in the type of art that I’m making but many of my ideas are the same or just slightly skewed.”

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One of Bennett’s main concerns, which will be echoed in art schools across the country, is the inability to have a physical degree show. Manchester School of Art replaced their in-person show with an online version and, after various petitions and emails, Bennett says: “We were granted a series of physical degree shows in the future.”

Nevertheless, Bennett believes the art school is handling the crisis well: “I still received essay feedback on time,” he says. “All my emails have been answered and my tutors are still engaged with the work I’m creating.”

Painting of The Grinch with emoji face by Husk Bennett
Artwork by Husk Bennett

He also recognises the that lockdown is transforming the art world: “I’ve been enjoying the various online solutions to the closure of art schools and galleries. It’s created a year of students who seem interconnected despite studying in different cities and universities, and on different courses.”

The challenges of relocating from Belfast to Manchester have influenced Bennett’s work. “I often get made fun of for how I sound. Even though it is innocent, it still had an effect on me and made me feel somewhat insecure at times,” he says.

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“It encouraged me to be more critical of British culture and the absurdities that exist within it,” Bennett explains. He has included references to Big Brother, Love Island, Trinny and Susannah and the widely ridiculed screen adaptation of Cats in his paintings.

He continues: “It also provoked me to work with language a lot more and explore how I can perform the role of the artist in an art school environment, developing a kind of character-based daily performance in my everyday life.”

Painting incorporating emojis by Husk Bennett
Artwork by Husk Bennett

Bennett recommends the Instagram accounts @sadgrads2020 and @thesocialdistanceartproject for “a vast insight into what’s happening in art schools across the UK and further afield.” He sees these platforms as proof of a wider network of new artists supporting each other.

“It’s encouraging to see students working together to help and inspire each other, which is a far cry from the art world we know outside of art school,” he says. “It makes me think that maybe this is something we should’ve thought about before we had no other choice.”

See more of Husk Bennett’s work and learn more about future exhibitions by following @pilotinspektorlee.