The outsize personality of Billy Al Bengston looms large in the prescribed historical narrative of Southland artall wan sunshine and Ferus Gallery machismoand even larger as the framing device for his own work. The artist’s website details his early migration from Kansas; his study at the Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles; his burgeoning interest in ceramics (which he “ditched” for painting in 1957); and his subsequent biography, metered in marriage, child-rearing, surfing, and motorcycle racing, among other milestones and pursuits. It also specifies the coordinates between which Bengston has shuttled for some decades now: Venice, California, and Honolulu. These locales are summoned in Bengston’s titles and motifs, and have contributed to the sense of his having reimagined the modernist ragpicker as a free-spirited beachcomber. Given the conspicuousness of these
Artforum print subscribers have full access to this article. If you are a subscriber, sign in below.