Billy Al Bengston

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Canopus Dracula by Billy Al Bengston, 1977, Honolulu Museum of Art

Billy Al Bengston (born June 7, 1934 in Dodge City, Kansas) is an American artist and sculptor who lives and works in Venice, California. He was educated at Los Angeles City College Los Angeles, CA (1952), California College of Arts & Crafts Oakland, CA (1955), and the Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles, CA (1956).

After seeing the work of Jasper Johns at the 1958 Venice Biennale he adopted the motif of a set of sergeant's stripes. This recurring image was painted with industrial materials and techniques associated with the decoration of motorcycle tanks and surfboards.[1]

Bengston encouraged viewers in the early 1960s to associate his art with motorcycle subculture, for instance by straddling a bike on the cover of the catalogue for a 1961 show at Ferus Gallery.[2] His interest in cars lead to Judy Chicago, one of his students, attending auto body school and using spray painting techniques.[2] Thomas E. Crow draws attention to the deliberate contrast between Bengston's flamboyant, competitive, aggressively masculine stance and a delicate, modest approach to his art.[1] Silhouettes of iris flowers figure prominently in Bengston's paintings. In the 1960s, he often painted a single centrally placed flower. In the 1970s, he began using multiple iris silhouettes, often surrounded by overlapping circles,[3] as in Canopus Dracula from 1977, in the collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art.

He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (1967), the Tamarind Lithography Workshop (1968, 1982, 1987), and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1975).[citation needed] His first solo exhibition was at the Ferus Gallery in 1958.[4] In 2010 at Samuel Freeman, Bengston recreated this first solo exhibition, including a scale replica of the Ferus Gallery inside Freeman's space.[5] His work is found in many public and private collections, including the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (Los Angeles), the Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York), and the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York).


  1. ^ a b Thomas E. Crow, The Rise of the Sixties: American and European Art in the Era of Dissent, Laurence King Publishing, 2004, p80-81. ISBN 1-85669-426-7
  2. ^ a b Cécile Whiting, Pop L.A.: Art and the City in the 1960s, University of California Press, 2006, p94. ISBN 0-520-24460-5
  3. ^ Honolulu Museum of Art wall label, Canopus Dracula by Billy Al Bengston, 1977, acrylic on canvas, accession 2014-15-01
  4. ^ Otis College of Art Alumni Listing, accessed Aug 4, 2007 Archived August 18, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^

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