Artist Benjamin Heneberry has been drawing and painting since he was 3. But at 32, he has never sold a painting.

Tonight, he’s ready for that to change. As the first artist selected for the Alexander Salazar artist-in-residence program, he is having a reception from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. for the solo show of his oil-and-collage works at Alexander Salazar Fine Art, 640 Broadway, San Diego.

“This is my first show ever,” said the Golden Hill resident, “my big break, so I hope it works out.”

Breaks don’t come around often for artists. When news started to spread in September about the artist-in-residence program, the buzz was audible among artists. Several times I joined a small group of sculptors and painters in animated chatter, only to hear the gallery owner’s name, Alex, over and over. When I got the chance to write this blog, I knew this was one aspect of the San Diego art scene I had to check out first.

The program allows an artist to have a small studio for a month. Salazar just hands them the key. The studio is only two doors down from Alexander Salazar Fine Art, at Broadway and 7th Avenue. While the artist is working the public can watch through the storefront window, or simply go on in and talk to the artist about the creative process. At the end of that month, the work created is displayed at the gallery. The artist’s cost? The donation of one painting after the show is over.

Salazar created the program after the space, about the size of a generous kitchen, recently became empty. It was too small for a gallery, but he wanted to make sure it became something that could support the arts in San Diego.

“I used to paint 15 years ago,” Salazar said. “I painted in my kitchen, in my bedroom. So I can see myself in these artists. I know when I move them from their garages and kitchens to a studio, you will get better art.”

He said what he’s seen from Heneberry proves that.

When I dropped by the small storefront studio Thursday, Heneberry was surrounded by the fruits of his labor. About 20 paintings were on the walls, floor, easel and table. He paints figures, scenes, or designs in oil over collages of old magazine clippings, many from the ’70s.

Heneberry took two weeks off his retail job selling imported home goods to give himself more time in the studio. When he did have to work, he would go to the studio after his 10 p.m. shift , work until 1 a.m., then return to the studio in the morning at 8.

One 40-inch by 60-inch piece called “Waiting” includes ads from Dodge trucks, Canadian Whiskey and Spam. A skillfully drawn male figure is painted over the ads. But don’t try to find Heneberry’s hidden meaning there. He works to make sure the collaged images don’t relate to the painting on top of it.

“I would hope it evokes different things in different people,” Heneberry said. “I just painted it. I don’t want to tell people what to feel when they look at it. I don’t even know what I feel about it.”

He does know how he feels about the opportunity he’s been given to create it, though: “I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Heneberry added, “I’d like this to be the start of my career as an artist.”

Dani Dodge paints, writes and likes to play with animals, including her mutt named Cezanne: Follow her blog here at VOSD’s Behind the Scene, and find her on the web and on Facebook. You can drop her a line at and follow her on Twitter.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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