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After tragedies, former dentist finds peace through art

Artist, John Benedetto (left) with Hevanston gallery owner, Steve Bialer. | Jackie Pilossoph/For Sun-Times Media
“It’s visual poetry,” said artist, John Benedetto of his oil paintings and bronze sculptures. “It’s taking an emotion or a snapshot of your own mental portrait of whatever you are thinking about and getting it out visually.” | Jackie Pilossoph/For Sun-Times Media
Benedetto described his paintings and sculptures as falling into the categories of expressionism, abstract expressionism, Tachisme, which is a French style of abstract painting, and Fauvism, which developed in Europe in the early 20th century with Henri Matisse as one of its leaders. | Jackie Pilossoph/For Sun-Times Media
"Perspective is Everything" will be open Wednesdays through Sundays or by appointment through Nov. 30. For details, visit hevanston.squarespace.com. | Jackie Pilossoph/For Sun-Times Media
“His art connects with people,” said Steve Bialer, who owns Hevanston gallery. “Something in his story and the way he reflects on things visually says something about what people are thinking and feeling.” | Jackie Pilossoph/For Sun-Times Media
Benedetto said the accidents made him realize “perspective is everything,” which is where the exhibit’s name comes from. It also changed his art dramatically. | Jackie Pilossoph/For Sun-Times Media

As a 5-year-old boy growing up on Chicago’s South Side, John Benedetto would go to art fairs with his mother, Ellyn, and watch her display and sell her art.

“She could turn every instance into something happy,” said Benedetto, who described his mom as “a Norman Rockwell-type of painter. She captured people’s gestures really well.”

But now it’s Benedetto’s turn.

At 55, and after a 28-year-career as a dentist and an accident that changed his life, Benedetto is showing art lovers what he’s got: “Perspective is Everything,” his new exhibit at Hevanston Gallery in Evanston.

“It’s visual poetry,” Benedetto said of his oil paintings and bronze sculptures. “It’s taking an emotion or a snapshot of your own mental portrait of whatever you are thinking about and getting it out visually.”

Benedetto, who lives in Winnetka with his wife, Lisa, and their children, has been painting his whole life, but said he chose not to go to art school after high school; instead he earned an engineering degree from Purdue University.

He then went to dental school at Loyola University Chicago and spent almost three decades practicing dentistry, eventually owning dental practices in Olympia Fields, Wrigleyville in Chicago, and Highland Park.

But Benedetto’s hands were never far from a paintbrush.

“Painting was my outlet, my therapy,” he said. “I had several hundred paintings that I completed just to work through my issues.”

Benedetto got his start as a professional artist in 1990 when he was living downtown.

“One day, I left the front door of my loft wide open, and the owner of a gallery was walking by looked in my windows and saw all the paintings,” Benedetto said. “He offered to put them in his gallery and they started selling.”

Since then, Benedetto’s art has graced several galleries.

But five years ago, a tragedy struck. Benedetto was in a serious cycling accident, which affected his ability to perform dentistry.

Fortunately, he was still able to paint and sculpt.

Then, last year, when Benedetto was in the process of selling his dental practice, he got into another cycling accident, this time even more serious. He suffered a severe concussion, broke his shoulder blades, his right collar bone and several ribs, punctured his lungs, and lost his memory for nine months.

He said the accidents made him realize “perspective is everything,” which inspired the name of his current exhibit. It also changed his art dramatically.

“I used to be very bothered by social issues, and anything that was unfair philosophically,” said Benedetto. “The colors were very intense before. Everything I did was dark and almost violent, with a lot of anger and angst. Now it’s more peaceful, with gentler colors.”

Benedetto said he never studied a single artist until he was trying to find a classification for his works. He described his paintings and sculptures as falling into the categories of expressionism, abstract expressionism, Tachisme, which is a French style of abstract painting, and Fauvism, which developed in Europe in the early 20th century, with Henri Matisse as one of its leaders.

Steven Bialer is the owner of Hevanston, which has been open for eight months. Benedetto’s exhibit, which opened late this month, is the fourth exhibit the gallery has hosted.

“His art connects with people,” said Bialer, who prior to opening the gallery spent 30 years as a graphic designer and art director for various publications in several U.S. cities, including New York and Chicago. “Something in his story and the way he reflects on things visually says something about what people are thinking and feeling. He’s not just following a trend, he’s really working to understand the issues that people in this area have. He’s a real voice of the North Shore.”

“Perspective is Everything” will be open Wednesdays through Sundays or by appointment through Nov. 30. For details, visit, hevanston.squarespace.com.

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