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Cyprus native Lara Sophie Benjamin is 2022 GGAF International Artist

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Courtesy photo

More than 200 artists from across the southeast will be exhibiting their work this weekend at the 2022 Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival. The 50th anniversary event will be held Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Pensacola’s Historic Seville Square.

For the first time since 2019, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Invited International Artist is back at GGAF.

This year’s International artist is Lara Sophie Benjamin, a native of Cyprus.

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Benjamin is primarily an oil painter, who has traveled more than 6,000 miles from her home in Nicosia, the capital city of Cyprus, which is a small island country in the Mediterranean Sea south of Turkey and east of Greece.

“We have the most beautiful light,” she said, pointing out that her country is a great place to be an artist, with 300 days of sunshine each year to go along with beautiful scenery, although she’s never been drawn to painting landscapes.

Her inspiration comes more from her everyday surroundings.

“Absolutely, I’m sure the light,” she confirmed. “And, then, the architecture definitely plays a role. And, we have a lot of beautiful old houses and I think that definitely plays a role in my choice of subject matter.”

Artistic for as long as she can remember, Benjamin says her mother picked up on her interest in drawing when she was about seven years old.

“I was very fortunate that she sent me to private art lessons and I just stuck with it throughout school and it was always my favorite subject.”

Benjamin describes her creative process as a "constant balancing act."

She loves to paint and discovered her love for painting with oils, while in college.

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Courtesy photos
Lara Sophie Benjamin's artwork. From top left, "Outside," "Jocelyne's Kitchen" and "Muse."

Oils, she says, are more flexible and fit with her free-flowing, intuitive, yet controlled method of painting familiar shapes that are linear and spatial, but also have abstract qualities.

“Absolutely, I kind of have this back and forth between figurative, as in you can see something reality-based in there,” began Benjamin, explaining that, on the one hand, you might recognize familiar interior shapes such as a bed or chair.

“But, there’s a lot of painterly freedom in my work and definitely a lot of experimentation in how I use paint and mark-making and layering and color and all of that part is a driving force for me.”

The artist has a particular interest in creating a view of her interior scenes through windows and doorways, which provide an often intriguing glimpse of the scene on the other side.

“It draws you in because you don’t have the whole picture,” she explained. “And, it also allows you to play with pictorial space because there’s an inside and an outside on the canvas.”

Benjamin, who studied art in Cyprus and in the UK, describes herself as an emerging artist. Her work has been exhibited in Cyprus, the UK, France, and with the Great Gulfcoast Arts Fest, she can now add the U-S to her list.

As part of her duties as the GGAF Invited International Artist, she’s spending time this week talking about her art to students studying art in local schools.

“I’ve never done that kind of thing before, and it’s actually so much fun,” Benjamin declared, noting that the kids have been really engaged.

“They want to keep asking you questions, and you’re running out of time and they have to get back to class. But, it’s been really, really lovely to see the response the kids have had to my art.”

Benjamin will present an artist lecture and Q&A session today (Nov. 2), 5:30 p.m. at Pensacola State College in the Anna Lamar Switzer Center for Visual Arts – Room 1513.

At this event, she’ll talk more in-depth about her art practice and some of the artists who’ve influenced her work. For example, she looks to the interiors of French painter Henri Matisse and David Hockney from the U-K. She’s also a big fan of abstract expressionist artists such as Dutch-American artist Willem de Kooning and American Helen Frankenthaler.

At the Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival, Benjamin will have a booth near the Gazebo, and if you time it right, you might be able to catch her working on some new paintings.

“Well, I’ve brought a lot of finished art works with me and I’ve also brought a few pieces that are ongoing works and I plan to work on them while I’m there, yeah.”

The Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival runs from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Sunday.

In addition to Invited International Artist and juried art show, this 50th-year event also will include a Children’s Arts Festival and Music on the Main Stage, hosted by WUWF, 88.1FM.

A full festival guide is available at the Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival website.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.