Award-winning painter talks technique, influences at the Mount

February 06, 2020
Hudson Valley painter Benjamin Arnold discussed the evolution of his artistic techniques at Mount Saint Mary College on Wednesday, February 5.

Hudson Valley painter Benjamin Arnold discussed the evolution of his artistic techniques at Mount Saint Mary College on Wednesday, February 5. 

Hudson Valley artist Benjamin Arnold discussed his painting techniques, his inspirations, and the highlights of his impressive career on Wednesday, February 5 at Mount Saint Mary College.

Arnold was a guest speaker in Art History instructor Anna Adler’s course, Fine Art: Theory and Practice.

Arnold is a British painter living and working in the Hudson Valley. A recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust “Craft Scholar” award, Arnold trained at the prestigious Florence Academy of Art in Italy. From his studio in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., he works on local and international commissions.

As a child, Arnold admired comic book art. As an adult, he taught himself how to paint, primarily using photographs as a reference.

“I leaned heavily on photography, so I evolved into an increasingly photorealistic kind of painter,” he explained. “But as I continued to do that, I got less and less interested in my own work. I really began to develop an unhealthy relationship to my own paintings. I was beginning to get paid for them…but in terms of the process, I found it a little bit dull and lifeless, sitting by myself and working very meticulously in my own studio.”

After a number of years of increasing income – but also increasing unhappiness – Arnold came across a painting by a student of the Florence Academy of Art that he thought was powerful and exciting. And so, he enrolled at the academy, thinking that he would learn new secrets and techniques to invigorate his artistic skills.

“Day one, the teacher says to me that he can tell from my handwriting that I have all the control over the pen that I’ll ever need,” Arnold explained. The teacher told him that “It’s how you see things, how you see the world, that’s providing that aspect of your painting that you’re not happy with. You’re reliant on photography and you’re not representing the world as you see it.”

Arnold stayed at the academy for the next four years with the assistance of a prestigious Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST) scholarship, granted on behalf of the Royal Warrant Holders Association. Previously working with only self-taught skills, he experienced a much more traditional education, studying the methodologies, techniques, and materials of the old masters.

At the academy, he painted exclusively “from-life,” his attention focused on capturing the visual impression; that is, “the world as it is taken-in by the human eye rather than the flattened and distorted images captured by the lens of a camera,” Arnold explained.

“One of the interesting things of working from-life is you get this opportunity to keep changing you mind, again and again and again,” Arnold said. “You keep seeing little differences…people respond very, very differently depending on their mood, and a painting is a record of all those micro observations.”

After moving to the United States, Arnold become the Community Artist-in-Residence at Barrett Art Center in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. His style now focuses on a contemporary approach to representing the human form, melding his interests in naturalism and realism with the pictorial possibilities of abstraction and design.

The Mount's Division of Arts and Letters helps to prepare students for careers in writing for print, digital, and broadcast media; video and audio production; copyediting and publishing; and more. With a variety of courses from a number of disciplines, Arts and Letters students at the Mount can also pursue minors in Art, Theatre Arts, and Music. The college’s video suite, Mount Media crew, and the KnightRadio station offer hands-on experiences with high-tech control room and studio equipment.