Q&A: Betsy Benefield, street artist

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Q&A: Betsy Benefield, street artist

Homeless artist Betsy Benefield sells abstract calligraphy paintings under the Davis El stop to support herself.

Homeless artist Betsy Benefield sells abstract calligraphy paintings under the Davis El stop to support herself.

Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Homeless artist Betsy Benefield sells abstract calligraphy paintings under the Davis El stop to support herself.

Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Homeless artist Betsy Benefield sells abstract calligraphy paintings under the Davis El stop to support herself.

Kelly Hwu, Reporter

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Certain days of the week between mid-afternoon to sundown, Betsy Benefield sits underneath Evanston’s Davis El station painting on canvases with acrylic paint.

Benefield carries a sign reading, “I did not want to beg so I drew this dog. Disabled and an artist.”

In order to pay her bills, Benefield applies her artistic background to selling paintings rather than begging passers-by for money. She spoke to The Daily on Monday about her life, art and dreams for the future.

The Daily Northwestern: What encouraged you to sell your paintings in public?

Betsy Benefield: In July of last year, my daughter turned 18 and child support services stopped sending me money, so the only thing I received was Social Security. I did not know what to do and I said, “I don’t want to be out there holding a cup.” I’m on disability for mental illness and am unable to work in a job setting, but I have a gift in art. Everybody loves watching an artist and I thought, “I’ll go out and sell art on the street.”

The Daily: Do you have a background in painting?

Benefield: I was once homeless for two and a half years and was not treated very well. I never accomplished what I wanted to do, which was to be an illustrator. I used to be a teacher aide but I wasn’t making enough under government support. Since I was a child, I have had a talent in art. However, I have high myopia vision because I had cataracts. My mom told me when she was alive that the doctors recognized it when I was three years old. I would get so close to the TV and I couldn’t see past my nose. I majored in art in college and graduated, but I was very slow in college.

The Daily: What do you paint?

Benefield: I have a theme that is abstract calligraphy. I outline my paintings in calligraphy and sometimes I’ll put in images. Occasionally, I’ll use glow-in-the-dark paint and glitter too.

The Daily: How much do you sell your paintings for?

Benefield: My 2-by-2s sell for $10 and my 3-by-3s sell for $20. I have one here that is about 7-by-7 and I’m selling it for $60. Next is $80, then $100, then $150. I even have a $200 painting that took over a week for me to paint. My pricing is based on the quality of the canvas and the quality of work I do on it.

The Daily: How often do your paintings get sold?

Benefield: Not every day do they get sold … approximately one or two a week. Sometimes none.

The Daily: What are people’s reactions when they see you outside painting?

Benefield: I get a lot of compliments. There is some criticism. Some say that they think they saw something from my painting somewhere else. Most of the time I get compliments. Some ignore.

The Daily: What do you hope to be doing in the long-term?

Benefield: I’m hoping someday I can open a gallery. I will not turn away a single disabled or homeless person who wants to bring their art to my gallery. I will sell them. I will be going by my own license, so they won’t have to worry about permits and they will get most of the commission. I don’t want to be supported by the government.

The Daily: Why do you choose to be at the Davis El station?

Benefield: I chose this corner because police officers in Chicago will confiscate my stuff if I do what I do there. I started coming to the Davis station this past July. I think what I’m doing is far better than holding a cup.

I want to make it enjoyable for people and I don’t want to bother them. It’s their choice if they want to give a donation, buy a painting or share canned foods or toiletries. I’ve had some great moments, and I’ve survived.

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