Sea creatures emerge from Mike Bennett's mind
Artist Mike Bennett, noted for his large wooden cartoon cutouts, was quite flattered when one of his good friends, Joe Kye, paid him a great compliment.
Kye called him "a public joy creator" and, Bennett said, "it's a phrase I've held on to. I'm an artist and illustrator and social media influencer, but 'public joy creator' is what speaks to me the most."
Well, Bennett is all set to bring more joy to Portlanders and anybody who might venture to his house and yard in Northeast Portland, which he vaguely describes as "north of Alberta Street." Building off his "A to Zoo" theme, which featured animal creations whose names start with each letter of the alphabet, Bennett will introduce the public to "A, B, Sea" starting April 20, the one-year anniversary of "A to Zoo." It'll be 26 cutouts of different sea creatures starting with each letter of the alphabet.
Bennett wants to keep the suspense, but he does admit that anglerfish and blue whale are the first two. "A is for anglerfish, from the deep ocean, and he has his own personal light that attracts smaller fish (for consumption)," Bennett said. "And B is for the largest mammal on the planet; I had to make a blue whale."
Each day brings a different unique character, which has become Bennett's specialty. Since "A to Zoo," he has created 117 different animals, done two alphabet-themed displays and put up dinosaurs on Alberta Street and "Planetary Promenade" on Mississippi Avenue.
Bennett, who moved to Portland from central Pennsylvania after growing up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, drew a lot of attention a few years ago when he made wooden cutouts of such well-known characters as Homer Simpson from "The Simpsons" and Pokemon and strategically placed them (some hiding) in his neighborhood.
From then, though, he developed his own characters, which makes him happy.
"It's rewarding to create something that doesn't exist," he said. He put the "A to Zoo" characters up in his yard during the COVID-19 pandemic last year as an attraction for people who wanted to keep socially distant.
The idea for wooden cutouts started when he went into the basement of his new house in Northeast Portland, found a bunch of wood and wondered what to do with it. "I realized how easy it was to draw with a jigsaw, so 'I gotta make some big stuff,'" he said. He uses reclaimed wood for his cutouts.
Like "A to Zoo," the "A, B, Sea" display will be complemented by a 60-second video on YouTube on the same day. There'll also be 600 unpainted seashells at Bennett's place for visitors to take with them, create art on them and return them for display at his home. On May 15, the final day of "A, B, Sea," there'll be a concert in his yard by Pointed Man Band. The characters will then be moved to show at Rogue brewery's headquarters in Newport, Bennett said.
He created "A, B, Sea," all 26 pieces, during a week's stay at Sou'wester Lodge in Seaview, Washington. "I didn't sleep much, definitely wouldn't try to do it in one week again," he said. "But it was worth it."
Bennett enjoyed creating sea characters. He grew up going to the Baltimore Aquarium and, when he goes to new cities, he'll seek out the aquarium.
"We know more about space than we do the ocean," he said. "It's a very timeless thing, adults and kids are equally fascinated by."
For more, see www.AtoZooPDX.com and Bennett's Instagram page, @MikeBennettArt.
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