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At the Galleries

October 02, 1987|Leah Ollman

This year's Billy Al Bengston show at the Thomas Babeor Gallery (7470 Girard Ave.) introduces a refreshing new vocabulary of forms and colors for the artist, but, in typical Bengston fashion, what is new becomes old fairly quickly, as it is repeated and varied ad infinitum.

The Los Angeles artist's 1987 work (on view through Oct. 10) follows one basic format, the use of a grid fragment (most often formed by one horizontal and two vertical stripes) that frames a view into the heavens of Bengston's imagination, an atmospheric space floating with multicolored orbs and wisps of gold.

The structural format repeats in a multitude of chromatic schemes, many of which are named after the months of the year, reiterating the artist's interest in seasonal light and color variations. Bengston paints in watercolor on paper and acrylic on canvas, often employing a luminescent paint whose glow heightens or subsides as the viewer's position shifts. This glossy touch faintly echoes Bengston's roots in L.A.'s "finish fetish" art of the '60s.

For all the textural and painterly freedom Bengston shows in this series, however, the repetitious structure causes the work to lapse into an excessively controlled, static symmetry. Some of the paintings, especially the aqua-dominated "July Watercolor," are delicate and refined, while others are more aggressive in scale and palette.

For all of their celestial expansiveness, however, the group never really gets off the ground. As with the chevron and iris forms in his earlier works, Bengston has developed another signature motif, instantly recognizable as his but offering little more to reveal him than a decorative emblem.

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