Avon Lake artist draws local, national recognition with portrait

Avon Lake

By Nicole Hennessy

After nearly 40 years as a commercial illustrator with American Greetings, Avon Lake artist Chris Benavides began working on personal projects again, finding a renewed passion for oil painting over the past few years.

Though he insists that a person who is driven to do art will do it regardless of circumstance, winning a national art contest was the sign Benavides needed to continue on painting.

One of his paintings, “Pioneer Daughter,” was recently awarded in the Emerging Artists category on Artmuse.com, a national monthly art competition.

The piece also drew attention locally, winning the Directors Choice award at this year’s BayArts annual juried show.

The portrait of a little girl with long, blonde braids and a secretive stare, said Benavides, “tells a story that I want to know more about, and the eyes of this young pioneer girl invite us into that story.”

“What have those eyes seen?” he asks, describing the thought behind and encouraged by his work.“What has been her experience as a daughter of a pioneer?”

Working in a representational style with an emphasis on people, figures and portraits, Benavides says his work can also sometimes evolve toward “a kind of impressionistic realism.”

“’Representational’ simply means that what is being painted (the subject) actually looks like what is being viewed on the canvas,” he explained.

“The artist is trying to represent to the viewer what he actually sees.”

The impressionistic realism piece allows for some of Benavides’ own perceptions and, possibly, part of himself to come through.

In his 27 years as an Avon Lake resident, Benavides has raised two boys.

A lifelong Northeast Ohio resident, he has followed his passion for art, picking up a few mentors along the way.

“As a very young person, I was mentored and encouraged by a very special family friend that lived in Cleveland and that was an illustrator for American Greetings. Her name was Guntra Graudins, but her friends all new her as Gigi,” said Benavides.

“I (also) had a very talented and supportive high school art teacher at West Tech High School, Will Jean, who is still creating art in the Cleveland area.”

Benavides then attended the Cooper School of Art in Cleveland, which no longer exists, in the late 1970s.

For self-education, he’d wander the Cleveland Museum of Art, getting lost in exhibits and the museum’s extensive permanent collection for hours, something he still does regularly.

Continuing to paint and enter his work into local and national juried contests, Benavides said that while he would love to see greater community support for the arts in Avon Lake, the national acknowledgement is inspiring for him as an artist.

“Winning a contest like this one gives you some way of measuring if you are in the ballpark in terms of a higher level of skill and expertise,” he said.

“It’s an affirmation that, yes, I’m on the right track.”

Contact Nicole Hennessy at nicohenness@gmail.com

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