Arts & Culture Del Mar Times

Artist Benrey Creates An Ever-Changing Canvas

By Sarah Wilkins

The place in which Lizet Benrey creates is worlds apart from the one in which she lives.

The Carmel Valley artist laces her canvases with bright colors and bold, abstract forms, boasting influences of Japanese calligraphy and Mexican modern art. And yet, the pieces are created in a studio on a peaceful cul-de-sac, inside her house, which is virtually indistinguishable from hundreds around it.

Rather than seeing the apparent homogeneity as a handicap, Benrey sees San Diego as the perfect place to forge her own artistic identity.

Benrey is a third-generation artist. Her maternal grandfather painted in secret, quietly amassing an impressive body of work, and her mother, Shirley Chernitsky, was a renowned visual artist in Mexico.

Each inspired the young Benrey, who was always interested in art. But, she found it difficult to climb out of their shadows, particularly the one cast by her mother.

“I would always look at her art and think of what I would do differently to make it my own,” Benrey said. “She (Chernitsky) influenced me, but I always struggled with my work having a life of its own. And it was very hard, because I was so used to her traces and colors and lines that I automatically did my work a little bit like hers, but I would throw them away if it was too much like hers.”

To escape the pull, Benrey investigated other art forms, working in acting, filmmaking, jewelry and sculpture after leaving Mexico City to study at Boston University.

“I did not want to paint,” she said.

But, the desire was unavoidable. No matter what she was working on, she said, “All I wanted to do was go back to my room and paint.”

Benrey moved to San Diego and completed her studies at UCSD in 1988, and has lived in the area ever since. She now lives in Carmel Valley with her husband and two children.

Benrey’s style is constantly shifting and fluid. She devoted her work to the human figure for years before changing to the abstract, color-dominated form it takes now.

Benrey started abstracting the figures in her work until they began disappearing completely, but would sometimes add a vague aspect of the human form as a type of reminder of the work she did before.

“The figure is so beautiful, but I truly believe abstract works are very universal,” Benrey said. “It’s more about a feeling and a moment, They’re more like unspoken words.”

Most recently, Benrey’s work has begun reflecting on her interest in world religions and a renewed interest in more realistic depictions, which she said is appropriate for this point in her life.

“The motive is changing a little bit,” she said. “I got so abstract — too abstract — and I’m coming back to a little bit of an intention. I feel like the world needs to hold on to something right now. There’s so many tragedies that they just really want to hold on to some symbolic thing that gives them a little more faith.”

Benrey’s work has stretched far beyond the borders of southern California, to galleries and shows from Serbia to New York City to Tijuana. She is a part of the multicultural exhibition “Women Beyond Borders,” which toured the world for more than a decade.

She has also participated in as many as 10 shows annually for the last five years.

Last year, with Lucy Orozco as Director, Benrey produced the documentary Shirley Chernitsky: Burst of Imagination, chronicling her mother’s life.

Her upcoming work includes a solo show of “intentional art pieces” at the New Art Center in New York City.

Benrey said it is sometimes difficult to work in Carmel Valley, particularly because the school system holds her children here while her work forces so much travel.

“It’s challenging in a good way,” she said. “Being here makes me want to go inside of myself … (and) I found out it’s really not just about me. And so, because my family is very happy here it helps me to be calmer.”