North Lake College professor Trevor Bennett is the featured artist in the campus Gallery this month with his exhibit “First Layer.” The exhibition showcases his sculptures and drawings, and is free and open to the public through November 14.

To celebrate his exhibit’s opening, we asked Bennett questions about his artwork, his career, and his time at NLC.

Who is Trevor Bennett?

He’s respectful. I don’t mean it in terms of etiquette. I mean it in terms of being present-of-mind, being patient, and being humble. By recognizing that I don’t “know it all,” I maintain a posture of absorption. I am forever a student, learning from experience.

This is why artists make. Art gets misdiagnosed all the time for being convoluted or unclear. In the end however, it has a virtue in non-verbal communication. As a society, we spend so much of our time explaining ourselves. Politicians spend entire election campaigns reiterating their values, or clarifying what they meant when they said what they said. All the while, art is there: authentic, unwavering, loud and clear.

Trevor Bennett is a person who respects that.

How did you get involved in art?

When I was 5 years old I decided to switch my focus from NBA basketball to art. I actually remember telling my mom that I didn’t want to be in the league anymore and that I actually wanted to be an artist. I even messed up my hair to prove it.

I attended an arts-focused high school and eventually learned about ceramics in college at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. In the beginning, I detested the medium. I thought it was clumsy and old-fashioned. My professor convinced me to attend the national ceramics conference during my sophomore year, and it was there that I discovered what ceramics professionals were actually capable of. After that, I was hooked. I went on to study at the prestigious New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, earning my MFA, and have been exhibiting my artwork and teaching a variety of art courses ever since.

Are there any particular themes or passions expressed in your work?

Though I believe contemporary art is currently enjoying an era of more performative practices, I still consider myself to be, first-and-foremost, a visual artist. I enjoy making representational works, whether they be drawings on paper, or sculptural ceramics. I think that realism will always have an important place in the critique of modern society. This is how I view the subjects in my artworks. They are tools for representing the human condition and the way humans treat one another.

I have chosen to represent my subjects with modified “skins.” I like reflective surfaces because they cast the viewer back to himself. I like the corroded, quasi-archeological surface because it is unpredictable. It represents what the ceramic object will eventually become after we’re long gone.

Tell us a little bit more about the sculpture One Good Apple on display in the show. (The sculpture is displayed in the photo on the right.)

The initial inspiration behind One Good Apple began a couple of years ago when I met my first ceramic art students at North Lake. After checking attendance, a student approached me and requested to be called by a different name than was officially listed on my roster. Of course, I obliged, but I could not help but inquire about his reasoning.

The student was embarrassed by his name. He was afraid of what his American classmates might think. His real name was Osama.

We are all familiar with the age-old expression: “One bad apple spoils the bunch.” As I contemplated my student’s dilemma, I couldn’t help but think about this notion: that thanks to one bad guy, a tradition has been seemingly tainted… if only for one individual.

It seems so rational and so consequential to assume that one spoiled apple is capable of ruining the whole bin. Why else have we adopted the expression but to remind our children to be on their best behavior. However, as an educator, I wonder if the opposite is also possible. Could one good apple be vivid enough to reverse the spoil on all the others? I think that it is our duty as teachers to acknowledge that we may very well be the only optimistic force that a given student comes in contact with. My sculpture represents this reversal of the adage: a precarious pillar of crumbling apples held high, thanks to one that is golden. Ultimately, the knowledge that we transmit on a daily basis, may be more welcome, more impactful, more secure, than we will ever know.

How did you come to North Lake College? What do you teach?

I did what many new MFA holders do by picking up multiple teaching contracts across several different Universities. Some were adjunct teaching, some were Visiting Artist appointments. Just as I was packing my bags at Kansas State and headed for the Oregon College of Art and Craft, I got a serendipitous call from Dr. David Evans, the Dean of Visual and Performing Arts at North Lake College. I was happy to accept the job. By moving to North Texas, I became the closest I had been, in 7 years, to my family in Arkansas.

At North Lake, I am the Coordinator of 3-Dimensional Art. I teach 3D Design, Sculpture, and Ceramics classes. I also teach the occasional Art Appreciation lecture course.

What is your favorite thing about NLC?

The diversity. In ceramics, students learn that every culture the world has ever known, has left a lasting, enlightening mark in clay. In my classes, I have the honor of connecting our students with their ancestors thanks to these impressions.