Los Angeles

Billy Al Bengston

James Corcoran Gallery

Michael Todd’s inspiration might be Japanoiserie, but for Billy Al Bengston, the exotica of another part of the Pacific is motivating. His “Lahaina” watercolors—Lahaina is on the island of Maui in Hawaii—with their sunset colors, represent a hairpin turn from his earlier work.

I used to view Bengston’s tony canvases as an overt example of what Peter Plagens refers to as the California “finish fetish.” Presumably the spiritual source of the fetish is the airbrushed and laminated motifs embellishing surfboards and vans, not to speak of the different quality of light which makes for a luminist movement. Bengston’s celebrated iconography—irises and chevrons—functioned for me like designer initials on garments: easy to identify and status to own. A Bengston, like a Courrèges, can be spotted from 50 paces. The insouciant qualities of his repeated imagery, however, wear well. In time, the irises

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