‘The Old Gods are Not Dead’: Myths Reimagined

Artist brings Greek immortals to life with a twist


by Teresa Bennett

Poseidon was the first painting in Bennett’s ‘The Old Gods Are Not Dead’ series. Bennett’s depiction of Olympic gods was her first major project on canvas.

Aphrodite sits in the audience of a runway show, her face falling as women strut down the stage, their bodies thinner than that of any average girl. Dionysus lounges in the shadows of a bar, protecting womens’ drinks while they dance. Hephaestus stands wreathed in smoke, urging flames back as firefighters extinguish them. Poseidon sinks to the ocean floor in disbelief as tendrils of ink-black oil bleed into his once-blue home. 

On the canvases of Natalie Bennett’s series of paintings, “The Old Gods Are Not Dead,” the immortals of Greek mythology are depicted protecting and guarding us as we walk the earth. In her paintings every god or goddess is shown in defense of a certain social issue: Aphrodite for body inclusivity; Poseidon against oceanic pollution.

Bennett’s painting of Athena shows the goddess of wit and warfare clad in golden armor, standing over a modern-day female soldier who glances back at a gray, plane-peppered sky. 

“I wanted to take the Greek Olympians and put them in a light of how they could protect us and what they stand for reflected in issues today,” Bennett said. “Athena, for example, she could be protecting soldiers overseas.” 

The Monte Vista High School senior’s art gained immense popularity on TikTok this summer, where Bennett now has 146,000 followers (@iamtheloraxx) and her most-viewed video has over 1.5 million views.  

“I downloaded TikTok along with everybody else as a joke in the beginning,” Bennett said. “I never meant to have a serious art account. The only reason I ever ended up doing a TikTok for the Poseidon painting was to keep myself motivated to finish it… but I woke up the next morning and 300,000 people had seen it.”

The Poseidon piece was the first acrylic painting that Bennett posted, which shows the Greek god of the sea protecting his home from oil spills. This was the first in a series she completed for her AP Art class.

Bennett’s series has reached countless people. She said she got messages from firefighters, soldiers, and frontline medical workers who told her how much her art meant to them. She received direct messages from the March For Our Lives organization after posting her painting of Ares, the god of war. It depicts Ares holding a child’s backpack with a tear slipping down his face, while headlines of school shootings make up the backdrop of the painting. 

“That one took me the longest because it was so hard for me to get through the emotional roadblock of painting it,” Bennett said. “I didn’t think I’d be so emotionally attached to that piece, but I am.” 

Bennett’s series covered the original 12 Olympians before she expanded to other mythological characters. Hebe, the goddess of youth, was depicted as a symbol of protection over Gen Z. Hestia, the goddess of the home, encourages people to stay at home because of COVID-19. She also painted the Greek god of medicine and healing, Asclepius, holding an N-95 mask while he protects frontline workers.

Bennett explained that she painted the god’s eyes white with no emotion because she wanted those who view her art to interpret the gods and the issues they represent themselves.

 “I wanted people to decide how they felt about my pieces, good or bad,” Bennett said.

 In each of her paintings, an Olympian is painted with brightly-colored skin: green for Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, for instance, or pink for Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty.

“She spends so much time thinking about the message of her artwork and making the character fleshed out,” said Yulia Belyaeva, a Monte Vista junior and close friend. “She researches everything from the gods themselves to Greek sayings that she puts on the gods as tattoos to deepen the meaning of the piece… yet she’s still able to convey a message with hardly any words.”

Bennett’s “Old Gods” was her first major project on canvas. From Panic! at the Disco denim jackets to the designs of the posters for Monte Vista’s theatre productions, Bennett works in many mediums. She’s created art based off of music and movies, and also did another series, “But the Villain Wrote This One,” which depicts classic fairy tale villains as protagonists in their own stories. 

“I grew up on Pixar and Disney, and I was so attached to those growing up,” Bennett said. “I’ve always known that the things I wanted to create would be in that [style].”

Bennett said she aspires to be a character designer for Pixar, describing that the first time she visited the company’s headquarters in Emeryville it felt like home. 

But in the meantime, she can be found painting in her home’s grand foyer, her auburn hair up in a messy bun, listening to Harry Styles or The Lumineers, surrounded by her paintings of gods and fairy tales.

“Our world relies on people caring,” Bennett said. “People who care should make an effort to make other people care, which is one of the reasons why I took something that so many people grew up loving and put a modern twist on it that applies to issues I care about. As an artist, as a creator, as an influencer — which is still weird to say — I feel like it’s my responsibility to reflect what is going on in the world.”

And as for the “Old Gods,” Bennett said there’s more to explore. “I always say I’m never going to hang the series up,” she said. “There are so many gods for everything in other cultures [as well]. Every time a new issue evolves in the world, I feel called to do one [representing it].”