Mary Benson creates vibrant, mosaic-like paintings inspired by nature.
by Jennings Cool Roddey
Sunlight beams through the windows of a 1934 bungalow in Charlotte’s Elizabeth neighborhood as Mary Benson adds color to a blank canvas. The sounds of Jack Johnson, Tyler Childers and her other favorite musicians bounce off the tall ceilings as she brings her visions to life.
In her home studio, Benson, founder of Mary Benson Art, creates colorful oil paintings in a style she calls abstracted, contemporary impressionism. Her inspirations come from scenery she often finds herself surrounded by, such as mountain peaks, wildflowers or Spanish moss hanging off live oak trees.
“It makes me feel at peace, and it makes me feel very restored when I am spending time in those [outside] spaces,” she says. Benson strives to visually convey the emotions she experiences when spending time in nature through brushstrokes and pops of color. “Through my artwork, I want to be able to communicate and share those feelings and experiences I have had and hopefully bring other people a feeling of peace or joy,” she says.
Benson typically leans toward bright, vibrant hues, though she tries to incorporate muted and neutral colors in her paintings as well. “It’s a balance,” she says. She starts by painting the foreground and works from the front of her piece to the back — reverse painting, as she says — letting the underpainting shine through as an outline. “I think of it kind of like a mosaic, in a way, puzzle-piecing the parts of the painting together.”
Benson is constantly brainstorming and absorbing inspiration from objects and colors in her everyday life — from the shade of someone’s shirt to elements in the natural world, sometimes even close to home. On a neighborhood walk with her yellow Lab, Gus, Benson was captivated by a flower garden in her neighbor’s yard. She grabbed a picture of it and used the inspiration in the foreground of her painting, “Golden Light.”
“That painting was kind of a breakthrough, in a way,” she says. The 30-by-40-inch painting spurred a lot of growth, pushing her to paint larger canvases and encouraging her to hone in on her unique style. She shared a corner of it on social media before it was finished. It sold right away.
“I was really excited to push myself to paint on a large scale, and I was really excited about how it came out,” she says. “Seeing people’s response to it was super encouraging.”
Benson, a Winston-Salem native who works as an art director for a video-production agency, moved to Charlotte in 2019 after graduating from Clemson University with a degree in graphic communications and a minor in art. However, her love affair with art began when she was in the ninth grade when a teacher affirmed her creative gift. From there, her passion and skills grew.
Coming from an artistic upbringing, Benson reflects on sharing the early moments of her painting journey with family members. Her sister, who lives in Charleston, S.C., is also a painter, and her mother is an interior-design professor at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
“We would paint for hours or draw for hours around the kitchen table, and we had our art supplies sprawled out all over the place,” she says. “It’s been really nice to have them throughout the years to bounce ideas off of and having those sweet memories when we used to do [art] all together.”
Fast forward to today, and Benson’s art can be purchased on her website, marybensonart.com, and at Common Good Co., a shop and art gallery in Boone. She’s been amazed at how quickly her art career has blossomed since she started selling her work in 2020. “It’s really cool to see.” SP