Categories
2000-2009

Not Big: Fifteen Years of Small Scale Sculpture

Chant, 1993 brass,8 x 6 x 5 in.

The first time I saw Picasso’s early constructions I was struck by how small they were. These tiny objects of wood, paper, tin and string, so vital to the birth of constructivist sculpture, trick you by their size. There is a sense of monumentality implied through these little forms.

The numerous series from which the works in this exhibition are drawn have been undertaken at intervals, usually when I need a change of pace in the studio. The form that a fresh series takes is most often shaped by a newly discovered material–found bits of forging, harness links, intricate mouldings… one series is built around telephone bells.

Since my first encounter with those tiny Picassos, I’ve learned much about rhythm and concentration, and how the two must blend seamlessly during the making of a sculpture. It takes a very different pacing, combined with a trance-like attention, to feel one’s way into small-scale work. My desire here is to create objects with the concentrated energy that allows them to be viewed from a distance yet also demands your close-up attention. I want them to occupy their own inner realms, coaxing the viewer into a kind of childlike fascination, followed then by a peaceful recognition of many things felt.

Douglas Bentham, October 2009

Categories
2010-Present

Still Life

In the Still Life series, Bentham creates assemblages in an intimate scale from utilitarian and ornamental brass and bronze. Decorative figures and vessels are eloquently combined with planes and rods, transcending the materials’ original purposes and inspiring new meaning. Just as a traditional still life subject has a front and a back, Bentham’s sculptures are defined in this way and each side is equally compelling. While remaining largely abstract, the sculptures contain certain shapes or rhythms that are reminiscent of a particular historical artist’s work, as referenced in his titles.

Each composition is unique and occupies its own space – similar to how a still life becomes its own microcosm, established within a specific time and place. I often reference a historic artist’s work by emphasizing a certain motif that feels familiar. It is a way of expressing my gratitude for their influence on my work, and for their contribution to the ‘onward’ of art, in which I remain immersed.

Douglas Bentham
Still Life II – After Gonzales, 2018
Categories
2010-Present

Winds

(left) Sunday Sail
2015-18
Burnished stainless steel
72.5 x 49 x 21 in


(right) Summer Breeze
2016-18
Burnished stainless steel
66 x 33 x 11 in
Categories
2000-2009

Maquettes

Categories
2000-2009

Drawings

Categories
2010-Present

Sorcerer’s Cupboard

Douglas Bentham’s new Cupboards series, in rich, galvanized plate steel, is reminiscent in form to the antique handmade furniture the artist has collected over decades. Held within the vitrine-like sections is an assembly of eccentric linear drawing comprised of forgings, ancient hand tools and encrusted foundry castoffs. A mirroring effect is created as the viewer’s eye moves from section to section to the  whole.

Categories
2010-Present

Spanish Voices

As I began working on this series, I recognized the possibilities of creating bold, linear forms with a certain primitive feel, which could become containers for coloured planar inserts of a painterly nature. One quality of the sculptures that repeatedly emerged was a fullness, at once both generous and casual, that reminded me of my experiences visiting Spain, of its vivid landscape, people and culture, and of the remarkable artists whose voices we still hear.

Memory for Goya, 2012. Galvanized steel and iron, patinated brass 80 x 35 x 20 in.
Categories
2010-Present

Gates Series

This new series, in burnished stainless steel, has developed since the completion of the commissioned sculpture for Northridge Developments. The original work was designed to incorporate a stylized image, drawn from the company’s logo, as a lintel above a gate-like opening.

Categories
2010-Present

Palace at Midnight

Categories
2010-Present

Current Work

To introduce colour and texture to the work, this new series utilizes resawn hardwoods as a way of softening the surfaces beyond the expectations allowed with metals.

Categories
2010-Present

Origins

Douglas Bentham incorporates random scraps of metal into form and framework and skeletal structure, similar to the evolution of the human body—its bits of meteorite, mud, and water. The wonder is that, in both the human body and Bentham sculptures, unrelated pieces are intricately fitted together to work in striking unity. Bentham sculptures reveal the patterns in which these scattered elements were meant to join. These forms are their story.

Earle Toppings, March 2010
Categories
2010-Present

Tablets Series

Although the artist plans to show the Centurions as a group eventually, the Tablets represents Bentham’s first full-fledged museum installation. These tablet-scaled works hark back to the Doors, where 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.

The twenty-seven sculptures are to be displayed on identical plinths in staggered rows, offering viewers an opportunity to walk among them at will, in either a rectangular or diagonal orientation.

Categories
2010-Present

Reliquaries

The sculptures, then, take their shape around a hidden presence. Like armour, they ward off a grasping gaze. Like reliquaries, they enshrine an unseen holy thing, an unnameable beauty within.

Timothy Long
Categories
1980-1989

From Emma Lake, 1985: Passages

The ten sculptures in the Passages series were executed at the Emma Lake Artists’ Workshop in 1985 under the tutelage of workshop leader Tim Scott, a highly respected abstract sculptor from London, UK. This group of ground-oriented works was assembled from random chunks of preformed metal, salvaged from derailed railway tank cars.

Categories
1980-1989

Mudras

When Bentham visited the John East Ironworks he was perhaps predisposed to a discovery of materials that promised new formal possibilities for his art. There, he found piles of discarded foundry equipment: long-handled ‘shovels’ for skimming the dross, ladles for the molten metal, pouring spouts, sprues, vents and all the pieces broken from the product after casting. In these unlikely objects he sensed a new direction for his art—with time, the steel tools used to manipulate the molten iron had undergone fantastic change. As the cups of the ladles, the heads of the shovels and portions of the handles were repeatedly dipped into the molten metal, they were coated with iron, which steadily accumulated in successive layers about the underlying form.…Bentham recognised in these objects the formal means for linear sculptural composition, drawing in space. These were of a more-or-less consistent thickness, and had richly textured masses of various shapes. At the same time, he responded to their expressive character, to the suggestions of gesture in their linear configurations, and to the delicacy and fragility of their surfaces. They were, as well, evocative of time and the processes behind their eventual form.

Victoria Baster
From catalogue essay, Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina, 1985
Categories
1980-1989

From Emma Lake, 1989

His new work pushes abstract sculpture towards the Baroque. Nevertheless, the pieces are organized—governed, by their own sculptural architecture. This architecture inclines to cage-like configurations characterized by curved rods and tubes containing curved plates and volumes. The pieces rise off the ground in a variety of ways, sometimes upon platforms that become surrogates for the floor rather than bases or plinths. These platforms don’t hold the sculpture aloft in the traditional sense. They’re part of the visual universe of each work rather than a separate element. They’re something like abstract “stages” which help to separate and isolate the configurations. The platforms keep them apart; they insist that the sculpture is designed to be looked at rather than physically entered.

The curved “drawing” which composes them has two aspects: it draws sinuous “dancing” arabesques in the air and it draws around and contains space. In the first aspect it draws within and penetrates space. In the second, it draws “around” space, creating transparent shaped and volumes.

These two aspects of linear drawing are augmented by the insertion of plates, cones and cylinders. Here Bentham gains variety by playing off transparent shapes (drawn with rods and thin pipes) against these opaque solids. These rather musical compositions play upon the relations between the explicit and the implicit, in effect blurring the distinctions between the two. Solids become illusory. Spaces become substantial. The various parts set up echoes and rhythms within the piece, much like echoes and rhythms do in music or poetry.

Terry Fenton
From catalogue essay, National Exhibition Centre, Swift Current, 1991
Categories
1980-1989

Articulations

While many sculptors, especially those working in steel, seem to be obsessed with mass and inherent characteristics of material, Bentham is concentrating on transcending such physical limitations. In these pieces he has dropped any associations with found objects, and he has rejected the concept of the ‘culture of materials’. Simultaneously, the final image owes as much to the experience of manipulating material, to adding and editing, as it does to conception, resulting in a tense equilibrium between Bentham’s will and steel’s properties. The salient point is that, unlike many artists working with a particular material, be it steel or videotape, Bentham is in control. He is not being manipulated by his material. It is this liberation which allows his work to overcome the particular in favor of the universal.

Christopher Youngs
From catalogue Essay, Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, 1984
Categories
1969-1979

Opens

The Opens are deceptively sparse, almost to the point of being minimal. Heavy channel iron, looking very much like a frame, defines a specific section of space. Through this basic easel-like construction, a triangle base is inferred, automatically establishing a traditional three-dimensions. The framework and its attached elements sets up a surface and at the same time directs us back into the enclosed space. Whereas, traditionally, not being able to look at a freestanding work from all sides was a problem, these sculptures seem to require that problematical factor for their success. The knowledge that we could walk around them if we wanted to seems to be sufficient.

Robert Christie
From catalogue essay, York University Art Gallery, 1976
Categories
1969-1979

Enclosures

When you were saying that you want people to examine your pieces closely, perhaps psychologically, the enclosed space makes—that is, it draws—a person to the piece rather than asking him to stand away and look at it from a distance. I find these Enclosures seem to hold a secret. They draw you to themselves like any box does. You want to see inside.

Terrence Heath (in conversation with Douglas Bentham)
From catalogue essay, Glenbow Alberta Institute, 1975
Categories
1969-1979

1969

The idea of sculpture as drawing in space has been central to the development of modernist sculpture from the first decades of the twenty-first century. Julio Gonzalez first articulated it in 1932, describing the “new art: to draw in space”. Gonzalez was referring retrospectively to Picasso’s early sculpture and, by implication, to the welded metal sculpture on which he and Picasso had recently collaborated. The phrase makes reference to the pictorial origins of the new sculpture in cubism, and vividly conveys the character of the open, linear constructions originated by the two artists in 1928. Building on the work of Gonzalez, [David] Smith accomplished his own radical and distinctive formulation of the idea.

At the outset of his career as a sculptor, Bentham too was occupied with drawing in space. He was aware of Smith’s insistence on the primacy of a picture plane as the basis for sculpture. The two-dimensionality and dependence on line for the spatial image, which characterize Bentham’s earliest independent works explore Smith’s idiom.

Victoria Baster
From catalogue essay, Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina, 1985
Categories
1990-1999

The Hardingham Sculptures

The Hardingham series is comprised of six monumental steel sculptures executed in 1990 at the Hardingham Sculpture Workshop at Norfolk, U.K. These sculptures were Bentham’s direct response to the stimulus provided by fourteen days confronted with British steel, hot days tempered by cooling rains, other sculptors’ provocations and his own competitive spirit. Hardingham Memory was created some time after his return to his prairie studio, and is dedicated to his friend and fellow sculptor, John Foster.

Seventeen years later, in Crossing the Pond, an exhibition shown at APT Gallery in London, UK, Bentham complemented the Hardingham sculptures with six new stainless steel sculptures from his then current Espalier series.

Categories
1969-1979

Rhythms

Bentham thinks of his working method as drawing with metal; edges and their relationships make tense linear rhythms in his work.

Karen Wilkin
From catalogue essay, Edmonton Art Gallery, l973
Categories
1969-1979

other works

Categories
2000-2009

Tilt of the Will

Categories
2000-2009

Romancing the Light

Categories
2000-2009

After Robert Frost

The language of abstract sculpture has much in common with modern poetry. Robert Frost’s poetry, for instance, unites opposites. Art at its best, in all its disciplines, can be casual in tone but profound in effect; teasing and intense; playful, yet deeply penetrating.

As an individual sculpture begins to declare itself during the making, it also reveals a certain mood that evolves in various forms throughout a series. In these new sculptures this mood emerges, as in Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods’, from a kind of frozen silence, intriguing yet mysterious. If we are attracted to the notion that a particular place can suggest ideas unlimited by space, it is because we recognize that in nature, as in art, there are those moments that can hold us in a state of sublime mystery—that beauty, however elusive, is enmeshed in implicit truth.

Douglas Bentham
Categories
2000-2009

Towers, Spires, Pinnacles

A concern with light and imaginative thought permeates the exhibition. In the Spires and Towers, for example, titles like The Shape of Things, Point of Repose, A Thousand Years and Enchantment imply a physical and metaphorical space. Uncannily, an abstract concept of unified verticality composed of fractured bits and pieces of metal is conveyed. Literally erratic, but graceful, stacked sections of brass and copper tubes, cylinders and plates telescope in slightly askew ascendancy to an unknown destination, perhaps echoing our collective frailties and uncertainties associated with recent events of world history.

Dan Ring, exhibition catalogue, Resonance, Mendel Art Gallery, 2004
Categories
2000-2009

Totems

The Totems, reflecting their title, have a figurative presence. They are more planar in construct, with architectural mouldings, metal strapping and reed-like bundles juxtaposed against rich, overlapping plates of brass. Totem X: The Chant, with its contrasts of sheen, textures and forms, can be seen as a physical analogue to a contrapuntal motet. Totem III: The Secret includes cylindrical forms of brass rod and decorative brass tulips enclosed within frames of brass plate. These elements, combined with vessel-like forms, produce subtle transitions of dark to light and a mysterious, organic feel. The title is reinforced by a date and name stamped into a brass ring midway up the work, a hidden reference to the birthdate of a friend’s son, a detail that reinforces the human scale and tender emotion of this sculpture.

Dan Ring, exhibition catalogue, Resonance, Mendel Art Gallery, 2004
Categories
1980-1989

other works

Categories
1990-1999

1990–1999

Categories
2000-2009

Espaliers

‘Espalier’ is a horticultural term for a tree or shrub trained to grow flat against a surface in a symmetrical (or asymmetrical) form. In these sculptures, the figural body of the work is made up of configurations of overlapping and abutting planes; I ‘draw’ upon this surface with linear, branch-like elements, which produce the espaliered form.

The Espaliers, an ongoing series of life-scale sculptures in stainless steel, have also become active studies in demonstrating the potential for abstract figure-oriented artworks to serve a prominent role in visually enhancing public settings. This potential has been achieved through a process in which strategic works from the series are physically scaled-up in a proportion of 1:2, resulting in works with a monumental, yet physically approachable, scale. The titles of these sculptures are drawn from the names of Greek mythological figures and emphasize the inspiration people have drawn from the human form and nature.

Categories
2000-2009

Centurions

The Centurions convey introspection and reflection. Idiosyncratic and anthropomorphic as a group, they have a cubist or even surrealist sensibility: stoic figures marking a transition in time between millennia. At once awkward, humorous, archaic and stately, they are “more slowly wrought because they emerge from materials with a more inherent history (wheels, tools, implement parts and such), often bolted together.”[i] The age and richly patinated surfaces of recycled clusters of copper tubes from heat exchangers and brass plates with raised cruciform shapes (originally embedded in concrete as supports for old machinery) encourage a symbolic reading. Dark into Light, for example, is constructed of concentric sleeves of brass placed on an early-twentieth century cast bronze chandelier with egg-and-dart and acanthus leaf moulding. Resembling an inverted classical column, this work reinforces a connection to architecture and to the past, a leitmotif of Resonance. Its title references liminality and light as a signifier of knowledge; as one looks into the sculpture, dramatic contrasts of light and shadow appear, elusive, smouldering off the surfaces of brass and lead solder knifed onto the circle of the innermost cylinder. This flowing, evocative, liquid sense of light imparts an ethereal and otherworldly quality to the work that immerses the viewer in a childlike rapture of imagination.

Dan Ring, exhibition catalogue, Resonance, Mendel Art Gallery, 2004
[i] Bentham to Ring, April, 2004.
Categories
2010-Present

Nine Planes Series

Categories
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
Categories
1990-1999

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

Categories
1990-1999

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.

Categories
1990-1999

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

Categories
1980-1989

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.

Categories
1980-1989

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
Categories
1980-1989

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
Categories
1990-1999

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