Early in his career, Billy Al Bengtson worked predominantly in oil and enamel paints on board, relying on his choice of color and orientation to create the sense of illumination for which he is known. As he progressed in his practice, Bengtson shifted his focus to spray paint, influenced by the techniques he learned while working on motorcycles. This new working method allowed him the space to master a new medium and harness the natural sheen to enhance the illuminating effect he was so drawn to. In exploring a new working method, Bengston then began to question of the surface in which he would create his works, particularly how the paint integrated to the environment in which it was placed. This exploration led to his experimentation with sheets of aluminum through his Cantos Indentos series. The works in the series, known as Dentos, did away with traditional canvas, instead favoring thin sheets of aluminum. Bengston would sculpt the metal surface, hammering and folding until the desire textured surface was achieved.
The present example, entitled Holy Smokes, is one of the earliest and most notable pieces to come out of this series. In this work, Bengtson maintains his characteristic striped pattern in the middle of the piece with varying layers of paint, creating the illusion of shadows and depth. Beyond his application of paint and use of repetitious pattern, Bengtson also utilized the undulations of the aluminum, both organic and ones man-made by hammering and puncturing the surface, to create further texture. Holy Smoke is a perfect example Bengtson’s new style and represents the benchmark in which he progressed from. The surface variation combined with the artists mastery of spray paint in Holy Smoke create an ever-engaging and important demonstration of a series that would go on to define Billy Al Bengtson.
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Minor spots of rust and oxidation are scattered to the margin of aluminum sheet. Pinpoint accretions are occasional. One of the dents in the lower right is repaired on the reverse, presumably in keeping with the artist's working method. There is no apparent inpainting under ultraviolet light.
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