Early Work (1970-1999)

1980–1989

1990–1999

Carapace Series

Significantly for subsequent work, the mirroring involved in this series introduces a viewing situation in which the primacy of the whole is questioned. The importance of relating part to part supercedes that of relating part to whole. Shape, as a unifying element, is no longer the ultimate reference point.

Not that this relinquishment of the whole is an end in itself. And not that the subsequent sculptures are utterly shapeless. The words “carapace” and “reliquary” spring to mind when viewing the works. What is pertinent is that they do not invite the viewer to hold the whole with a masterful gaze. Rather, they require a scrambling glance across a broken, glittering surface in an effort to find a way in.

Timothy Long
From catalogue essay, MacKenzie Art Gallery, 1999

     

Ancestrals

[The Ancestrals] each loosely based on the form of a box, still participate in a familiar mode of construction. As the viewer approaches the work, a striking silhouette gradually gives way to a fugue-like interplay of interior and exterior, part and whole. Each piece is a carefully directed spatial drama.

The viewing remains straightforward until one realizes that each pairing is made up of two virtually identical compositions. In each case the “original” version is a welded steel collage with the “reproduction” executed at roughly one-half scale in patinated brass. According to Bentham, the translation of scale and material forces the viewer to deal with the language of abstraction.1 In looking from one piece to the other, the viewer is compelled to mentally reconstruct the work, to verify that, for instance, those two flanges join at just the same angle in both pieces. Through this exercise the viewer unwittingly remakes the piece, mentally mimicking the series of formal choices made by the sculptor. Not only is the horse led to water, but it is drinking before it knows it.

Timothy Long
From catalogue essay, MacKenzie Art Gallery, 1999

Eternals

The Eternals embrace notions of time through an interplay of openness and containment, and the constant flux of light and dark that plays across their surfaces. The repetitive nature of the varying, box-like elements, with their tilted floors and ceilings, creates a state of arrested time as a myriad of gestures are coalesced within a single moment.

Doors

Q: The titles of the two series of sculptures represented in this exhibition are doors and screens. Can you elaborate on what these two series are about and how they relate to each other?

A: The doors started first where, a kind of ‘figure’ or central image became held within the interval between two flanking walls. But as the figure appeared to affect the character of the wall, it was transformed somewhere within it. So that when you walked around to the opposite side you again sensed this transformation, which sent you back around again. Front/back, back/front, in constant flux. What intrigues and sustains the doors for me (and I don’t mean ‘door’ literally as a representative object) is a hope that each work’s own materiality, its scale and flux of front/back, back/front offers a kind of psychological interior in the viewer’s imagination as to what mystery a door might hold behind it—a secret garden, some kind of inner sanctum. What each door ‘represents’ is a consolidation of a specific set of symbol-forming intentions unique to that sculpture, but as part of a larger, more composite experience.
The screens are by nature more open, more transparent, usually incorporating some sort of ornamental grill that acts as a veiling device. The viewer may find them more ‘enterable’ but I hope the same internal probing occurs.

Douglas Bentham (in conversation with Elizabeth Kidd, curator)
Edmonton Art Gallery, 1993

 

City Hall Sculptures

Douglas Bentham Sculpture at City Hall Park in Saskatoon in l987 was Bentham’s first solo exhibition of large-scale public work. The display filled the entire park surrounding the facility with works strategically placed to offer motorists and pedestrians a myriad of viewing opportunities. After the exhibit, Cathedral Evening was placed at the University of Calgary, AB; The Gate at the University of Saskatchewan; and The Feast with the Canada Council Art Bank, Ottawa, ON.

MFA Thesis

In the late 1980s, after twenty years of working primarily with steel, I began to experiment with other media. The impetus for this was two-fold: an ongoing interest in Picasso’s sculpture, which took me to Paris in 1985 to study his work first-hand at the newly-opened Musée Picasso, and a challenge from fellow artist and teacher Otto Rogers to return to school to research other possibilities for my art. In the Master’s program at the University of Saskatchewan, I produced sculptures combining steel with wood, paper, plaster, lead and Plexiglas. The result of these experiments was a deeper feel for the characteristics of a material, how it felt in the hand and how it altered what I then realized was my rather ingrained sensibility to steel for its strength and rigidity. These new works spoke of softness and malleability, of being ‘squeezed’ through the hands, still sustained by a constructivist vocabulary, but now more deeply wrought.

Douglas Bentham
Statement in Artviews, Vanderleelie Gallery, Edmonton, 1994

From Emma Lake, 1982

Bentham’s sculptures were of a school of welded steel sculpture, just the way the Greeks’ were of the school of marble. It was a medium made neutral for whatever reason. The issue here was stuff stuck together in varying ways and that was what was dealt with, and that’s what I started to see. In seeing the beginning of the various attempts one could see, almost in an instant, several things. One: whether the practitioner was engaged in the classical case of self-imitation. Bentham was not, that was immediate. Perhaps that was the original impetus. Each piece in this bed of ambition had its own ‘particularness’. Each piece was unto itself.

Stanley Boxer
Interview for catalogue essay, Gordon Snelgrove Gallery, University of Saskatchewan, 1982

Screens

Q: The titles of the two series of sculptures represented in this exhibition are doors and screens. Can you elaborate on what these two series are about and how they relate to each other?
A: The doors started first where, a kind of ‘figure’ or central image became held within the interval between two flanking walls. But as the figure appeared to affect the character of the wall, it was transformed somewhere within it. So that when you walked around to the opposite side you again sensed this transformation, which sent you back around again. Front/back, back/front, in constant flux. What intrigues and sustains the doors for me (and I don’t mean ‘door’ literally as a representative object) is a hope that each work’s own materiality, its scale and flux of front/back, back/front offers a kind of psychological interior in the viewer’s imagination as to what mystery a door might hold behind it—a secret garden, some kind of inner sanctum. What each door ‘represents’ is a consolidation of a specific set of symbol-forming intentions unique to that sculpture, but as part of a larger, more composite experience.
The screens are by nature more open, more transparent, usually incorporating some sort of ornamental grill that acts as a veiling device. The viewer may find them more ‘enterable’ but I hope the same internal probing occurs.

Douglas Bentham (in conversation with Elizabeth Kidd, curator)
Edmonton Art Gallery, 1993