Lovely Rita

While the Vienna Arts Society looks for a new space this summer, it will continue to exhibit some of the area’s finest artists.

For example, Vienna’s own Rita Bentley will be exhibiting “Revisiting Europe” this May, featuring a series of 5-6 paintings in which the artist recalls her memories from past voyages.

“We have been to Europe several times and it just speaks to my soul; especially Italy with the art and the music,” she says. “It hasn’t regressed at all since the Renaissance, its music and art is just fantastic.”

In creating her watercolors, Bentley takes photos during her trips and then brings them back to her home studio and spends weeks at a time turning them into pictures on a canvas.

“Painting while you travel is not really feasible with watercolors, unless you stop at a watercolor workshop, where they stop some place and let you paint,” she says. “I don’t really like painting outside because the watercolor dries so fast and I can’t think fast enough to change anything.”

The 80-year-old Bentley discovered a passion for painting later in life than most. After retiring from a career as a legal secretary, and her three kids all grown and married, she was looking for something fun to do and was inspired by a visit to a crafts fair in Oakton.

1106 Church in the Valley

“I always had a creative gene. I grew up loving music and I played the violin but I never did anything in the art world,” she says. “I saw a watercolor painting by watercolorist Hannah Jacobs and it got me all excited, and I knew I had to learn to do that. It was so alive and beautiful.”

That was in 1991, and over the last 25 years, she has worked hard on her craft. She took lessons from Lassie Corbett in Herndon. From there, she continued her studies at the Torpedo Factory in Old Town Alexandria.

The biggest challenge through it all, she notes, is taking the proper amount of time to think about a piece before starting.

“Watercolors are the most difficult of the mediums because you can’t change anything and it sparks your creative juices and your desire to go on and finish something because you have to think about it a long time before you start,” Bentley says. “Once you put your paint on the paper it’s there, and if you want white to show on the paper, you have to plan for that.”

For example, on a recent work, Bentley painted over where she originally wanted a white spot to be and she had to throw it away and start over because she needed that to be the focal point of the painting.

Bentley, who has been married for 58 years, has a studio in her home where she works and her artwork consists of a variety of different subjects—not just her travels

“I have done a lot of pictures of children—playing tug-of-war and swimming and at the beach—and I have eight grandchildren and have done lots of pictures of them when they were younger,” she says. “There again, you need to paint from a photo because the children won’t sit still.”

894 Durnstein

894 Durnstein

Although she doesn’t paint as often as she used to, Bentley still tries to paint when she can and knows that it’s a medium that you have to stay involved in.

“You need to be inspired. If you not, it looks like you’re working on a coloring book and it becomes mechanical and you get no joy from painting like that,” she says. “Sometimes I will be sitting in another room and I’ll be inspired by something and decide to go paint for a couple of hours, and that’s when it becomes successful.”

She likes to listen to music when she paints and is mostly inspired in the afternoons.

Bentley is very committed to her art form and is an active member is both the Vienna Art Society and the McLean Art Society. She has shown her work at the McLean Project for the Arts and has participated in juried shows at the Torpedo Factory. She’s also received awards from the Art League in Alexandria, the Vienna Arts Society Treasury of Art Show and from the League of Reston Artists.

“It’s nice to be recognized but that’s not why I do it,” she says. “My favorite thing about painting is the chance to make someone else happy.”

The “Revisiting Europe” exhibition will be on display though July 26. 

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