los-angeles

Billy Al Bengston, Honolulu Watercolor, July, 1985, watercolor on paper, 42 1/2 × 29 1/2".

Billy Al Bengston

Samuel Freeman

Billy Al Bengston, Honolulu Watercolor, July, 1985, watercolor on paper, 42 1/2 × 29 1/2".

The outsize personality of Billy Al Bengston looms large in the prescribed historical narrative of Southland art—all wan sunshine and Ferus Gallery machismo—and 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

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