Big Jim McLain
On View at the Getty Center: Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950-1970
Billy Al Bengston was labeled a Pop artist in the early 1960s because of his use of recognizable signs and icons in his work. Yet he also participated in the growing attraction of L.A. artists to custom-car finishes and other industrial materials and processes. In 1966, Bengston began a series of paintings called the Canto Indentos, or the Dentos for short, that would occupy him for the next five years. In works such as Big Jim McLain, titled after the 1952 John Wayne movie, Bengston pummeled sheets of aluminum with a ball-peen hammer to create creased and dented surfaces that he sprayed with layers of lacquer. He blocked out chevrons and other shapes with adhesive tape, and finished the works with a coat of clear polyurethane. The installation of the Dentos at the Riko Mizuno Gallery in 1970, in which they were lit only by candlelight, drew attention to their sculptural presence as well as the alterable nature of their appearance when seen under different lighting conditions.