Billy Al Bengston
Billy Al Bengston
|Residence||Venice, CA, Honolulu, HI|
Bengston moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1948 where he attended Los Angeles City College in 1952. Subsequently, he studied painting under Richard Diebenkorn at the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, CA in 1955 and returned to Los Angeles to study at Otis Art Institute in 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.
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. 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. 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, as in Canopus Dracula from 1977, in the collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Bengston has had major solo presentations at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Texas; and the Honolulu Museum of Art. In 2017, Bengston was the focus of the major retrospective California Dreaming: Ed Moses, Billy Al Bengston & Ed Ruscha at the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut. 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). His first solo exhibition was at Ferus Gallery in 1958. In 2010 at Samuel Freeman Gallery, Bengston recreated this first solo exhibition, including a scale replica of the Ferus Gallery inside Freeman's space. Bengston's "moon paintings"–first exhibited at James Corcoran Gallery in 1990–were recently exhibited at Various Small Fires after almost three decades out of the public eye.
Bengston's work is included in a number of permanent collections including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Chicago Art Institute, Illinois, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
- 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
- Cécile Whiting, Pop L.A.: Art and the City in the 1960s, University of California Press, 2006, p94. ISBN 0-520-24460-5
- Honolulu Museum of Art wall label, Canopus Dracula by Billy Al Bengston, 1977, acrylic on canvas, accession 2014-15-01
- Otis College of Art Alumni Listing, accessed Aug 4, 2007 Archived August 18, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- "Howling at the Moon Doggie", LALA Magazine, February 2017
- Billy Al Bengston, Various Small Fires
- Billy Al Bengston, VENUS over Manhattan
- review in New York Times
- Billy Al Bengston in ArtForum
- Billy Al Bengston Papers at the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art
- Billy Al Bengston - Artist on KCET Departures Venice
- Decorative Arts: Billy Al Bengston and Frank Gehry discuss their 1968 collaboration at LACMA
- 5 Reasons Why He's Billy Al Bengston and You're Not - PAVED