Billy Al Bengston, a painter recognized for his stylised, highly-finished work that really feel plucked from the visible lexicon of California tradition, has died, aged 88. He died in his longtime house in Venice, California. It was recognized that the artist was residing with dementia, and final 12 months CBS Information reported when he was briefly lacking.
As a lot as he’s recognized for his iconic work—most recognisably the summary, lacquered works with compositions that characteristic centered motifs corresponding to a chevrons and hearts—he was additionally recognized in equal elements for his motorbike racing, his allure, his friendships that spanned the networks of West Coast artists and his key function within the growth of the Los Angeles artwork scene.
Bengston was among the many first artists to indicate at Los Angeles’s historic Ferus Gallery, inserting him alongside the likes of Ken Worth (whom he surfed and shared a studio with), Ed Ruscha (who referred to Bengston as “a mentor”) and Edward Keinholz (who based the gallery together with Walter Hopps in 1957). Ferus, which was lively till 1966, broke floor in numerous methods, together with being the primary exhibition house to indicate Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans (which had been priced at $100 a canvas on the time).
By the mid-Sixties, Bengston was utilizing lacquer and enamel to realize a glance impressed by the finishes on automobiles and bikes. This left a lot of his work with a shining, nearly reflective floor, inflicting some critics to classify him amongst California’s End Fetish artists—a gaggle recognized for the meticulously perfected, stylised surfaces of their work and sculptures—the place his cohort included Larry Bell, Dewain Valentine, Judy Chicago, Joe Goode, Robert Irwin, John McCracken and others. Lots of the End Fetish artists had been additionally related to Ferus Gallery. Bengston’s use of on a regular basis motifs has additionally led critics to rely him among the many Pop Artists of the period.
Bengston was born in Dodge Metropolis, Kansas, in 1934. His household first got here to Los Angeles in 1944 earlier than returning to Kansas. In 1948, they as soon as once more relocated to Los Angeles, this time for good. His father was a tailor who additionally ran a dry cleansing enterprise and his mom was a musician. “She was a baby prodigy. She might sight-read and transpose on the piano when she was 4 years outdated. She might play each instrument within the orchestra, and she or he might sing better of all,” Bengston advised Hyperallergic in 2016.
He went to Guide Arts Excessive Faculty in South Los Angeles, on the time the one highschool within the nation with an artwork division that used nude fashions. “I used to be fairly enthusiastic about this, till it occurred,” he stated in the identical interview. “They had been among the ugliest individuals you’ve ever seen.”
He then attended Los Angeles Metropolis School for 2 years, finding out “primarily ceramics and gymnastics” in response to his web site, adopted by the California School of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, the place he studied beneath Richard Diebenkorn and Sabro Hasegawa, after which the Los Angeles Artwork Institute, the place each he and Ken Worth—who had been already browsing buddies at this level—studied beneath ceramicist Peter Voulkos, although he didn’t graduate from both college. Bengston advised Artforum in 1968 that Diebenkorn and Hasegawa had been each “influences on me, with Diebenkorn exhibiting me how I would bodily method portray and Hasegawa by his instance as an individual and thinker”. He stated elsewhere that in Voulkos he discovered an artist and mentor whose inventive energies had been rigorous and energising in a way he hadn’t but encountered, however that he was finally dissuaded by Voulkos’s mastery of ceramics, feeling that he might by no means evaluate. This led him to finally abandon each the college and the medium, opting as a substitute to pursue portray.
“Billy Al is actually the constitution member and chief of LA’s ‘Cool Faculty’, and a founding father of the LA artwork scene within the Sixties,” collector and gallerist Adam Lindemann of Venus Over Manhattan advised artnet Information on the event of a 2016 present of Bengston’s work. “Motorbike racer, surfer and impressed artist, he is among the fabled heroic figures of the West Coast artwork scene.”
In 1958 he had his first exhibition at Ferus Gallery. “[I was] cruising round I bumped into Ed Keinholz, who was up in Echo Park on the time. He opened a gallery on La Cienega Boulevard. It was a small house within the artwork theater. Then, with Walter Hopps, he opened Ferus Gallery,” Bengston stated. “He could be within the again doing his factor. I’d take him a six-pack and we’d hang around. He stated, ‘Need to have a present right here?’ I stated, ‘Positive.’” Bengston went on to have 5 solo exhibits at Ferus.
In 1968, Bengston had a solo-show on the Los Angeles County Museum of Artwork (Lacma). A not-yet-established Frank Gehry designed the set up for the present. In keeping with the Los Angeles Occasions, Gehry stated that Bengston “welcomed me in as an artist to his world, once I was simply beginning out. That was actually necessary to me—I used to be invited into the household.”
In a evaluate of the 1968 Lacma present printed in Artforum, James Monte wrote: “Maybe essentially the most tough facet of Bengston’s oeuvre is that the images themselves refuse to change into both wholly summary or wholly figurative. The issue, in fact, exists within the thoughts of the viewer and never within the work themselves. A primary viewing of a physique of Bengston’s work is puzzling as a result of one is astounded on the richness of their brushed, lacquered and polished surfaces,” including, “Bengston suppresses an inclination towards the overt depiction of malignancy and as a substitute metes out the emotive power rigorously, serialises it, units restrictive limits on its use and in different methods regulates it. By engineering or manipulating the makes use of to which psychic malevolence is utilized in artwork, by juxtaposing it with humor or playfulness, the artist is ready to cultivate or at the very least sublimate this virulence to an incredible diploma.”
A large number of museum exhibits adopted, together with a 1988 survey additionally held at Lacma. At present Bengston’s work is in museum holdings all through the US and Europe. “His passing has left an enormous gap in me,” Wendy, his spouse, advised the Los Angeles Occasions. “However he belonged to everybody.”