From ash and rust, beauty is unearthed at The Gilded Hand gallery

9-11 ruins. Faces wrenched in painful grimaces. Gruesome images of war and poverty…

Amidst all the bleak imagery and dark, brooding symbolism that have been feeding art galleries recently, French artist Benedicte Blanc manages to inject her work with a sunny dose of calmness and beauty, while still exploring the multi-layered facets of the meaning of life.

Blanc’s paintings are featured this month at The Gilded Hand, a quaint gift-shop-cum-art-gallery nested cozily amidst the hubbub of the Miracle Mile area in Coral Gables.

Born in Paris, Blanc also spent time in Britain after growing up in a French castle. Always a lover of the arts, she worked in theatre before switching over to painting and sculpture. Blanc tackles a wide range of subjects, from nature settings to portraits, making her a true renaissance woman in painting. Interestingly, she enlivens her work with earthy elements, from the delicate roses that dot some of her paintings to the ash and rust she often fuses into the pigment.

Her flower paintings are aesthetically pleasing, mingling dusky pinks and soft greens into the ghostly blossoms. “Roses are not perfect, and I like to depict the rose as a couple days old – it captures the beautiful imperfections of the flower,” Blanc said.

In portraiture, Blanc purposefully eschews depicting actual faces, instead illustrating wispier, generic visages. “The faces represent the fleeting nature of impressions,” she says, gesturing to a picture of a face floating behind the page of a book, “similar to the mental picture of characters one creates when reading.”

Blanc strays from the beaten path of oil and acrylic and enhances her work with a variety of other nature-created mediums.

“Ash creates a wonderful shade of gray,” Blanc says, pointing to the carefully formed dark smudges that border her paintings. She also makes her own rust through oxidation, and uses wax as a symbol of protection and preservation.

Blanc always pins her themes back to the fragility of life. “Everything traces back to the mineral,” she comments, “even life. I focus on the cyclic nature of life – how the whole process is a spiral.”

According to Blanc, it’s unfair to ask her to name her favorite piece of hers: “The last one I have done will always be my favorite,” she explains. “Each painting is like a trampoline that inspires me to work harder on the next one.”

Also currently featured at The Gilded Hand is a series of wallpaper by Italian artist Emanuele Viscuso. Characteristic of the trompe l’oeil (“trick of the eye”) style, Viscuso’s wallpaper is intended to deceive the viewer into believing the objects depicted are actually the objects themselves. In this case, a stunningly realistic portraits of a bookcase wraps the walls, creating the plausible illusion of mahogany shelves stacked with tomes.

Check out these two shows at the Gilded Hand, 165 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, through February 13. For more info, call 305-442-1445.

Jessica Misener can be reached at