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Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, CA)
September 15, 2002
Section: Contra Costa
Edition: Final
Page: a35


OAKLEY -- Standing on a wooden plank more than a ceiling's height above the ground, Pawel Bendisz presses a brush to a surface and begins working his magic.

The graceful sweeping lines of a fog-enshrouded Golden Gate Bridge emerge against the backdrop of San Francisco's skyline in muted, monochromatic colors.
The massive painting will be 10 feet by 16 feet and is the latest of about four dozen murals the Polish-born artist has created on his canvases of walls and ceilings.

"When you stand before a white wall, I'm excited," says the 44-year-old Bendisz in heavily accented English as he pauses to survey his handiwork.

"It's a challenge. What you have in your mind, your sketch, you have to transform. The process of creation, it's wonderful."

For nearly two decades, the Oakley artist has been transforming interiors into rooms with a view, covering them with landscapes, still lifes and other classic images.

Bendisz often uses "trompe l'oeil" -- translated from the French, it means "deceive the eye" - a masterful use of light, shadow and perspective that makes objects appear three-dimensional.

Greek urns and busts decorate niches that are not really there.

A realistic bathroom towel is casually draped over the sill of a nonexistent window that opens onto a seascape.

A ladybug in one garden scene is so lifelike that it tantalizes viewers to pluck it off the wall.

Life's work

Bendisz's talent surfaced early in life.

"As far as I remember, I always loved to draw, to paint, to do something manual," said the slight, unassuming man, who at first did most of his work in charcoal and pencil.

He began private art lessons in his late teens, and while in college worked part-time for Warsaw's National Museum, restoring paintings.

Although he studied civil engineering in college, because it seemed a more viable way to make a living, Bendisz soon decided to devote himself to his first love.

He came to the United States in July 1988 hoping to earn higher wages than in Poland, where he had been living with his sister because he could not afford his own apartment.

Bendisz settled in San Francisco and began painting murals about 12 years ago, starting with an antiques showroom.

"I love doing the kind of creation on a big scale," he said. "You are changing entirely your interior, your room, the feeling. You can do basically anything you want. That's the great challenge because it's difficult. I'm not afraid of difficulty. It needs especially time and patience and some skill -- knowledge of colors, of perspective."

Although he spends most of his time painting murals, Bendisz restores paintings as well.

His most difficult project to date was a three-month assignment restoring 10 ceiling panels in San Francisco's Custom House, each section containing three or four huge paintings.

Bendisz does reproductions of originals by such masters as Michelangelo, da Vinci, Renoir and Monet and decorates all kinds of furniture.

He especially enjoys creating his own Byzantine-style religious paintings depicting Christ, the Madonna, the saints and other figures.

A king's throne

As news of Bendisz's work traveled by word of mouth, he began landing jobs as far away as Nevada and Los Angeles, as well as throughout the Bay Area.

He has charged anywhere from about $600 to $21,000 depending on the size and complexity of the project. Photographic-quality pieces cost more than simpler paintings that resemble sketches, Bendisz said.

Doctors and attorneys, interior designers, antiques dealers and even a few celebrities have commissioned him.

Bendisz's client list includes Olympic champion Brian Boitano, who hired him to paint a classical scene, complete with victor's wreath above the toilet, in one of his bathrooms. The "throne room" includes a three-dimensional stone tablet inscribed with the Latin numbers 1988, the year the figure skater won his gold medal in Calgary.

Other examples of Bendisz's work include a dancing Bacchus surrounded by women in flowing robes playing tambourines.

In a Woodside home that has a bathroom with a vaulted ceiling, Bendisz created a stylized sun against a blue sky and puffy white clouds.

Other houses have a ring of cherubs floating around their chandeliers.

One client was so smitten with his Saratoga mansion that he had Bendisz paint a replica of the sprawling home on a wall in the entryway, with one difference.

The man wanted Bendisz to give his property even more panache by adding a vineyard in the foreground.

Bendisz chuckles as he examines a photograph of the finished product.

"Forget wife -- he wanted cat here," he says, pointing to the Persian he painted in a window.

Of all his work, however, Bendisz says the one he is proudest of is his two boys, 5 -year-old Mateusz and 7-year-old Filip.

"Unfortunately they move during the day," he said. "I'd rather have them on the walls."

You can see more of Bendisz' work on his Web site at http://home.earthlink.net/~gpbendisz. Reach Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141 or rcoetsee@cctimes.com.

Photo, OAKLEY ARTIST Pawel Bendisz's many clients include Olympic skating champion Brian Boitano. This painting in Discovery Bay, the latest of about 48 murals he has done, will be 10 feet by 16 feet. (Herman Bustamante Jr./ Times)

Copyright (c) 2002 Contra Costa Times.