2014-08-22 / Business

Jay Bender’s canvas of life holds many pictures

Jay Bender Art Exhibition: “the off center paintings of Jay Bender (not a pretty picture),” August 27 at Over the Mantel Art Gallery
By Bill Hughes

Jay Bender 
Photo by Julia Moore Jay Bender Photo by Julia Moore Racing motorcycles and climbing mountains are now just memories for 70-year-old Jay Bender who is turning instead to a more laid-back pursuit — painting.

Brush and canvas artist is just the latest incarnation for the busy attorney, media authority, and all-round risk taker for the 39 years he’s lived in Columbia.

“I really can’t say why I decided on painting,” he recalls. “I had just retired from long distance motorcycle racing, and I was looking around for something to hold my interest.” He flirted briefly with making pottery but when that was unfulfilling “I just went out and bought some canvas, brushes, and acrylic paints.”

As simple as that, a new interest emerged where, like artist Jacks on Pollock, Bender finds painting is an act of self discovery. Pollock once said, “Every good artist paints what he is.”

Afterlife by Jay Bender 
Photo by Bill Hughes Afterlife by Jay Bender Photo by Bill Hughes After painting for three years, the last two with growing confidence, Bender has developed his own stark, edgy style. Much of it is in black and white or red, white, and blue. A lot of it mirrors Bender’s take on a range of political and social issues, with stenciled words helping shape a viewer’s impressions.

Bender’s words and thought s have been part of public discourse for decades. And for those interested in learning how his brain works in another media, there is an open invitation to his first art show scheduled for Wednesday, August 27 from 6- 8 p. m. at the Over the Mantel Gallery, 3142 Carlisle Street. The exhibit is titled “The off Center Paintings of Jay Bender (not a pretty picture).”

The star of the show has been exhibiting and selling painting at Over the Mantel since it opened in March, said gallery owner, artist, and Bender family friend Julia Moore. It was Moore, said Bender, who acknowledged his talents when he showed her a smartphone photo of his first canvas.

Moore says Bender’s political art is powerful but with a clever touch striking her in the same way as the work of local cartoonist Robert Ariail.

Bender said Moore encouraged him to put more color in his work, so he added a spot of yellow to a recent canvas showing a woman sunbather silhouetted in a sandy setting. A caption notes: “With the recent melting of the polar ice, New Mexico has enjoyed a boom in seaside life.”

In the same work, the spot of color is a dash of yellow in a New Mexico state flag also captioned with a play on the state motto: “Surf The Land of Enchantment.”

Bender doesn’t address whether there’s an artesian gene in his family but acknowledges his twin brother Ron “could draw most anything.” Born in Oklahoma, the siblings grew up in New Mexico. Ron is now a retired Army officer living in San Diego and playing a lot of golf, Bender said.

A tour of duty with the Army was the springboard for Bender to move to South Carolina in 1966. “ The bulk of my Army tour was in the athletics department at West Point,” he said. “ When head football coach Paul Dietzel left to come to South Carolina, one of his assistants called and asked if I’d like to come along as an assistant trainer. I did and I’m still here,” he said.

Bender graduated from the USC School of Journalism in 1970 and went on to Law School, finishing in 1975. His law career has largely focused on media issues in which he has a national reputation. He also represented the Catawba Indian Nation in the settlement of a land claim that arose in 1840. He has been legal counsel for the South Carolina Press Association for 30 years.

Today, he has teaching appointments at the USC School of Law and the College of Mass Communications and Information Science. Students say his courses are tough but fulfilling. Bender has exchanged his motorcycle for an electric vehicle he uses to commute to school and work. In another time, though, he rode his two- wheeler from Key West, Florida, to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and later to the “Four Corners” of the United States: Key West, Florida; San Ysidro, California; Blaine, Washington; and Madawaska, Maine.

At other times, he also enjoyed whitewater kayaking, running marathons, and climbing Mt. Rainier and most of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

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