Brigitte Bize is an artist who lives in Danville. But at least three days a week, she pays the toll to drive to Benicia in order to paint from 9:00 a.m. till 7:00 or 8:00 in the evening. If you saw her studio, you would understand why. Located in one of the old Benicia Arsenal buildings, the approximately 600-square-foot space has high ceilings and high windows that flood the studio with natural light. She shares the space with painter Paula Boas.
The Arsenal complex is home to about 80 artists, Bize says, in various buildings, one of which houses Arts Benicia and its gallery. Bize rented her studio space six years ago, having learned of the venue from friends who had studios there. She briefly had a small studio on Hartz Avenue in Danville as well (a sort of "pied atelier," to coin a bad pun) but ultimately decided to focus all her artistic energy in Benicia.
That energy started to coalesce about 20 years ago in her native France--inspired in part by her grandmother, who had been a painter doing copies of famous works. Bize started taking painting classes in the Paris area. Then in 1994, her husband's job with an insurance firm brought the family to the United States--temporarily at first, but then his job became permanent. Bize is fluent in English, having been a university English major in France before she embarked on her art career.
Her art education continues to this day--for example, she is currently studying with Jane Fisher at Diablo Valley College. Bize classifies herself as a "figurative artist," but her works have also included landscapes and abstracts. "I don't like photorealism," she says. "I admire the skill, but that genre doesn't touch me." She is currently at work on a series of self-portraits, one in the style of Chuck Close. Self-portraiture, she says, "forces you to look into yourself. Plus, I am my cheapest model!" She enjoys painting with oil paints on board panels and experimenting with oil, wax, and inks. Although she sometimes works in acrylic, she says that she prefers the fluidity with which oil goes onto canvas.
Bize started to focus more intently on selling her work "when the economy got bad" (that is, the most recent time, in the crash of 2008). Sales channels are art auctions and open studios, where she has sold "a lot." Bize has also had solo showings in San Francisco, sponsored by the French American Cultural Society, and in Benicia City Hall.
"My husband is my sponsor," she jokes. "I can't wait till I can say the reverse."
John A. Barry is a writer and avocational artist. To share anything art-related, call him at 314-9528 or email [email protected]