The evolution of an artist

For almost 50 years Douglas Bentham has let his intuition guide in creation
Erin Petrow, Saskatoon StarPhoenix

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Douglas Bentham: The Tablets

Esperanza: an elegy for a love once remembered, now lost

For centuries, artists and art admirers have been captivated by the brooding message purveyed by the painting by Nicolas Poussin, Et in Arcadia Ego. The Arcadian shepherds happen upon a phrase engraved upon a weathered, ancient tombstone, which could be paraphrased: Even in the land of Arcadia, death is ever present.  They express astonished dismay at the revelation of the tragedy of our mortality. Art and artists, however, have chosen to adopt an opposite posture. Like the Poussin painting, they conspire to cheat death, to defy its inevitability and create emblems of permanence intended to last for posterity. Ars longa vita brevis (Art is long, life is short) is an aphorism attributed to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. It has been a rallying cry for artists, a solace to bolster them against the trials and tribulations of the trade. Take heart. At least know this: history will remember; your reward, although delayed, is assured. So, as I commence my art historical funerary procession through the aisles of Bentham’s The Tablets to assess and report their message, I need to pause and remember yet another famous piece of advice from the very same author, The Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.

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“Spanish Voices” Exhibition Review

The recent exhibition of Douglas Bentham’s elegant new series, “Spanish Voices,” at Toronto’s Moore Gallery, affirms the senior Saskatchewan artist’s unwavering commitment to the making of rigorous, evocative, abstract sculptures informed by his deep understanding of the radical innovations of early- and mid-20th-century European and North American art. These subtle, compelling works courageously confront the legacies of various modernisms, ranging from the persuasive examples of Picasso’s early cubist collages and wall constructions to the seminal lessons of David Smith’s resonant sculptures of the early ’50s, and Caro’s gravity defying welded steel improvisations.

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Studio Series: Douglas Bentham

The 1990s have seen an unexpected shift in Douglas Bentham’s approach to welded metal sculpture. Despite his reputation for large-scale steel abstraction, the artist has shown increasing interest in working on a smaller, more personal scale, and with the more traditional materials of brass and bronze. More striking than these changes of medium and format, though, is the new aesthetic embodied in this work.

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The Spirit Unfurled

In tune with the times and its physical site at the foot of University Bridge, Douglas Bentham’s monumental, stainless steel sculpture provides the perfect civic symbol for Saskatoon at this momentous juncture in its history, brilliantly capturing its renascent spirit and progressive future. Titled Unfurled, the visually stunning new work of art is emblematic of the resurgence of development currently transforming the city, such as the Canadian Light Source, River Landing and the Mendel’s “Expanding the Vision” initiative. According to Bentham, “Saskatoon is on the cusp of greatness…. At this time it seems fitting to unveil a landmark sculpture to represent its vibrant cultural community and to offer the public a celebratory symbol of its achievements”.

Terry Graff
Director and CEO
Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon
Reprinted with permission


Douglas Bentham: resonance

It is a special privilege for the Mendel Art Gallery to present this remarkable exhibition and curatorial view of the recent work of Saskatoon sculptor Douglas Bentham. Represented in the Mendel’s permanent collection and featured in several one-person and group exhibitions organized by the gallery since 1969, Bentham’s distinctive sculptural practice has made a profound contribution to Saskatchewan’s cultural landscape. Through the exhibition resonance and the attendant publication, the Mendel continues to demonstrate its commitment to following the development of Saskatchewan’s most exceptional visual artists, and to the presentation and interpretation of contemporary art of national significance.

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Essay by Victoria Baster

Throughout his art, Bentham has tested ideas about sculpture, both his own and those received ideas which are contemporaneous. The series of works in this exhibition reappraises the history of sculpture in the first half of this century as it has come to be understood. As well, it involves a reassessment of the tenets of formalism. Working within the sculptural possibilities of his own time, and drawing on the experience of his past work, Bentham has produced a singular and intriguing series. The works represent perceptions of “the condition of sculpture.” More importantly, they are, in themselves, engaging and moving works of art. Victoria Baster

Download the essay by Victoria Baster (pdf format)

Essay by Terry Fenton

By removing the sculptures from their conventional relation to our common environment, Bentham has freed them to be themselves in a new and important way. We respond to them with equal freedom. Whatever meaning they have comes from the intensity with which they elicit and sustain this response. If one is open to the experience, the response evoked by Bentham’s new work is strong and deep.  Terry Fenton

Download the full essay by Terry Fenton (pdf format)