JANE Bennett has to restrain herself in art shops. She wants to buy the lot, particularly art paper.
"I love buying a new type of paper and then taking it home and trying to find out what works on it - going through all the permutations.
"I've done watercolours on pastel paper and pastels on oil paper; all sorts of things that I probably shouldn't," she said. "But the more you do that, the more you discover about yourself, your painting and the world. It also makes your work unique."
The Holdsworth Galleries in Woollahra are exhibiting Bennett's most recent work: paintings based on Sydney's changing urban landscape. Much of her inspiration has come from the streets of Pyrmont.
"I was born in Sydney. Urban landscapes seemed a very natural thing for me to paint," she said. "And so many of Sydney's old buildings are rapidly disappearing. In Pyrmont, though, you can actually see what the original landscape looked like. You can still see the bones of what was under there. You can't do that in many places.
"And there are still buildings that have all kinds of unnecessary and quite beautiful features - like the tiles in around 18 different designs on the Burley Griffin incinerator and leaded glass windows in the power station."
It was with an urban landscape, Night in Taylor Square, that Bennett had the first important acknowledgement of her work: inclusion in the 1986 Sulman Prize exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW.
"I felt that, at last, somebody actually wanted to look at what I was doing."
Although she decided to be a painter when she was very young, Bennett didn't tell anyone for a long time. She didn't even study art at school until she was in Year 11. Then, her HSC completed, she enrolled in the Diploma of Art at Alexander Mackie CAE; and later in the Graduate Diploma in Professional Art Studies at Sydney's City Art Institute.
She's been painting ever since, sometimes supplementing her income, like most artists, with teaching stints.
She has now exhibited in more than 40 exhibitions - several of them solo. And she's won a clutch of awards, among them the 1990 John and Elizabeth Newman Pring Memorial Prize. Judged from entries that have been selected for the Art Gallery of NSW's Wynne Prize (landscape painting), the Pring Prize is awarded for the best watercolour by a woman.
Bennett finds it difficult to describe her paintings. To start with, her work is varied. While it's representational and figurative, it's not really realistic; and certainly not photo-realistic. It has elements of Expressionism, elements of Realism, elements of Romanticism. "But I veer from one style to the other. I like to do that. I feel that if you try to force painting into just one specific style, you can end up with something very sterile."
New Works by Jane Bennett: Holdsworth Galleries, 86 Holdsworth Street, Woollahra, until July 1. Hours: Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm; Sunday, noon to 5 pm.