Artwork details

Untitled JWS 68-12-2
Lacquer and polyester resin on aluminum
30,5 x 28,6 cm
Billy Al Bengston

Billy Al Bengston Private Collection. Photo: Alan Shaffer.


Untitled JWS 68-12-2, 1968
Billy Al Bengston was a pioneer of the California art scene of the 1960s, and a key player in the Ferus Gallery circle. Bengston was one of the first to use materials from the California auto, surfing and airplane industries in his art. He made use of spray paint and automobile lacquer in his works to produce glossy surfaces that reflected the California light – an artistic activity that was referred to as Finish Fetish. Bengston was inspired by the auto and motorcycle culture, but his strong colours and use of floral motifs approached this macho culture from a new angle. In Untitled JWS 68-12-2 (1968) spray paint and polyester resin are applied to a sheet of aluminium. The motif suggests a stylised flower with a set of sergeant’s stripes in the middle, while the metal sheet evokes associations with a hot-rod’s bonnet. The connection between the flower and the military insignia can be interpreted in the light of the massive demonstrations against the Vietnam War and the “flower-power” culture of the West Coast hippie movement that were prominent features of the time. Bengston is also represented by a more recent work: a colourful Hawaiian shirt, a stereotypical California item of clothing that also makes reference to the artist’s frequent visits to Hawaii. In this work he has replicated the sergeant’s stripes from the painting, resulting in an incongruous contrast with the informal Hawaiian shirt.


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