Self-expression through art

  • Right, Robert Mace Bent works on a painting in his bright, third-floor studio in Turners Falls. At left, a completed painting. STAFF PHOTOs/PAUL FRANZ

  • Robert Mace Bent in his studio space in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Art by Robert Mace Bent. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Art by Robert Mace Bent STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Robert Mace Bent in his studio space in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Robert Mace Bent works on a painting in his bright, third-floor studio in Turners Falls. Below, art by Bent. STAFF PHOTOs/PAUL FRANZ

  • Art by Robert Mace Bent.

  • Art by Robert Mace Bent STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 11/4/2019 12:13:28 PM

When abstract artist Robert Mace Bent stares at a blank canvas, he might see a bouquet of flowers that suddenly turns into an orchard. Whatever it is, he just goes with it.

“I build on creating an impression,” said Bent, who loves working with acrylics. “One person might see flowers, another might see something else. That’s OK. It’s not about what I see.”

Bent said there is no beginning or end to his creative process. Instead, he follows his gut and emotions.

“When I finish a piece, there’s a sense of balance and rhythm. That’s how I know it’s done, at least on my part,” he said. “It’s just the beginning for those experiencing it. I see motion in my pieces, a sense of energy. It’s all about life.”

Bent said he likes to play with color and discover how colors work with each other.

“Typically, red and magenta don’t really go together, but I put them on a canvas and see how they interact — and sometimes it works.”

Bent wasn’t always a full-time artist. The 73-year-old started his career as a lawyer. Born in Worcester, he grew up in the suburbs of Boston and went to public and parochial schools there. He got a degree in economics at Boston College and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, “in the thick of Vietnam.”

He was stationed at Goose Bay in Labrador, Canada, where he skied “all the time.”

When he returned home, he went to law school and got married, practicing law until shortly after he moved to the Pioneer Valley.

“I started painting in the early 1990s,” he said. “I got a late start — I’m a late bloomer. I was in my 50s when I really got into it. But, I’d always enjoyed art. That’s OK, though, because I think starting something like this when you’re a little older gives a different perspective.”

He said he wanted to learn the tools of painting, so he took some classes. He said his teachers gave him “permission” to be experimental, so that’s exactly what he did — he experimented.

Early on, one of his paintings was chosen for a juried show, which exhibits artists who must be found worthy of entry by presenting their work to a panel of “jurors” or judges. He said he submitted one of his pieces for an art show and it was selected by Charles Movalli, who was a pillar of the Cape Ann (and beyond) art community. Movalli was a distinguished landscape and marine painter and a prolific writer until he died in 2016.

“I was flattered to think he picked my painting for the show,” he said. “There were 600 applicants and only 100 were chosen. Someone saw there was something to look at.”

Bent said he has always been interested in “visual anything — art, geometry, trigonometry, angles — they’re all very interesting to me.”

So, he incorporates many angles into his paintings.

“Having a background in economics, I always liked graphs and charts, curved and straight lines,” Bent said. “They help me understand how things work.”

He said when he was in the military, he spent a lot of time reading and sketching, but didn’t take his passion any further than that at the time.

Bent said he probably developed a love for art because his paternal grandfather was an art collector.

“I spent parts of the summer with him in Gloucester at Gallery on the Moors,” he said. “One of the painters’ works I got to know was John Sloan, a well-known American realist painter and etcher. It was incredible to have that time when I was young.”

Bent said when his grandfather died, he inherited artwork by Nell Blaine that he had collected.

“I studied those pieces,” he said. “I looked at them and envied her artist’s life.”

Bent said at the time, he went from dreaming about the artist’s life to carrying a briefcase.

“I took an art class in the early 1990s and I did a little painting,” he said. “It was always gnawing at me. After that class, I just kept going.”

Bent said he works on an expressive, abstract, realist spectrum and takes inspiration from literature, poetry, architecture, figure and the natural world.

“Although I have had formal training and attended a number of artist-run workshops, I am primarily self-taught,” he said. “My work comes from deep inside me.”

Bent said he did realistic paintings early on, but believed he could do even more in terms of expressing himself, so abstract is what primarily appealed to him.

He works from a studio on the third floor of a building in downtown Turners Falls. He lives in Greenfield with his wife and has three daughters and eight grandchildren.

These days, Bent said he does some teaching to make money to afford his studio and the materials he needs to do his art. For a short time, he did illustrations for the Montague Reporter. He said some of the artists he admires most are John Marin, Joe Bradley, Eric Aho, Ruth Mordecai (his mentor), Emily Mason, Richard Diebenkorn, Bernard Chayet and Mary Abbott.

His work has been exhibited in Massachusetts, Vermont, Florida, Virginia, Maine, Illinois and New York, and he said he’d like to continue exhibiting. His collections have hung in the John Zon Community Center in Greenfield and at the Gill-Montague Regional School District in Turners Falls. His work has also been exhibited at the Furchgott Sourdiffe Gallery in Shelburne, Vt., Flourish in Turners Falls and Gallery A3 in Amherst.

“Art of one kind or another has always had a place in my life,” he said. “I was always working toward a life in art, though it didn’t last too long for a number of reasons early on. I’ve finally put my law practice aside and am devoting my time to painting and drawing.”

Bent said he’s always “blown away” by what others see in his art. He said he never judges his pieces or what they see because everyone has their own experience. He starts each piece by making random, impulsive, spontaneous marks, sometimes with a brush and sometimes with a pallet knife.

“I usually start with a darker color, but each piece changes throughout the process,” he said. “I don’t think about the technical part of painting. I probably should. But because I don’t, I think I’m less inhibited.

“My work is much more expressive than intentional,” he said. “I start with nothing in mind, no expectations, and that usually leads to my best work.”

For more information about Bent and his artwork, visit You can reach him at He is on Instagram at: rmbartmaker.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-0261, ext. 269, or

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