For Frieze NY 2018, Various Small Fires presents a selection of Billy Al Bengston’s (b.1934) “moon paintings”, the first grouped exhibition of this series outside of California since their debut at James Corcoran Gallery (Santa Monica) in 1990.
A pioneer of the 1960s California “Finish Fetish” and “Light and Space” movements, and an original member of the legendary Ferus Gallery’s roster, Bengston’s early paintings combined post-colorfield / proto-minimalist compositions anchored by iconographic references to popular culture (such as chevrons, in the context of the Vietnam War) and personal passions: the car and surfing culture of Venice Beach, motorcycle racing, and nature.
When Bengston established a second studio in Hawaii in 1980, his subject matter and style shifted to the transcendent: meditative night skies, lunar reflections over water, and galactic moonscapes – often viewed from the perspective of a surfboard floating in the ocean (and perhaps referencing Bengston’s surfing pseudonym “Moondoggie”.) Produced primarily between 1983-1990, dozens of such moon paintings comprise a distinctive yet overlooked body of Bengston’s work. The paintings will be complemented by a selection of Bengston’s handwoven Oaxacan rugs, depicting glowing moons rising and falling over indigo-dyed oceans.
Billy Al Bengston (b. 1934, Dodge City, Kansas) moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1948 and currently lives and works in Venice Beach, CA as well as Honolulu, HI. He studied painting under Richard Diebenkorn at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. In 1957, Bengston began showing with the legendary Ferus Gallery (founded and run by Walter Hopps, Edward Kienholz and Irving Blum) until the gallery closed in 1966. Bengston has had major solo presentations at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; the San Francisco Museum of Art, CA; the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX, and the Honolulu Museum of Art, HI. Bengston was most recently the focus of the major retrospective California Dreaming: Ed Moses, Billy Al Bengston & Ed Ruscha at the New Britain Museum of Art in New Britain, CT.
Bengston’s work is included in a number of important permanent collections including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, FR; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; the Chicago Art Institute, IL; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA.