The public will have an opportunity to meet the Saskatoon-based artist at a public reception and artist talk for the exhibition The Tablets at the AGSC Feb. 24.
The exhibition consists of a collection of 27 metal assemblages of a similar size that have been installed in symmetrical rows. The textured bronze and brass panels are displayed on pine plywood plinths.
“I wasn’t thinking installation when I started this series, but as it progressed, I realized that it wasn’t just about the piece I was making, but it was about its relationship to the whole,” Bentham told the Prairie Post. “I realized that I had this vision, that this is what I wanted. ... Will I do another one? I’m not thinking about it right now, but I do want people, when they see the exhibition, to relate to the installation, to the fact that this is what it is. That it is 27 sculptures that is presented in this particular fashion.”
Well-known Canadian art writer Jeffrey Spalding is the author of an exhibition publication for The Tablets. The publication is available at the AGSC during the exhibition. He describes the 27 sculptural works as “personages” that have different personalities, but at the same time they also have an appearance of architectural structures.
“I wanted them to be open to people’s own interpretations,” Bentham said. “I really want people to feel the whole installation, to feel like this is really special and what I want that specialness to be is that I want them to be beautiful. I have a saying that beauty is the language to which we have no key. My job, and it has been for over 40 years, is a beauty quest and a search for ways through abstraction to make people think about why they’re responding to this the way they are.”
He used a variety of recycled and found metal material, including the bronze castings of tombstone plaques, to create these sculptural forms.
“These plaques have these letters and little references to somebody’s life and to a family’s devotion,” he said. “I could never deal with it as content. I avoided it. I used the backs of these things for years and years, and often the bright greens and such that you see in places was part of that, and then when I started making this I thought I’m just going to embrace it. I’m not going to run from it this time but I’m going to cut these up and reassemble them in a way that they become a composite of something.”
The frontal planes of the different pieces in the exhibition include snippets of words and dates along with other design details that make each piece unique, but at the same time part of an overall visual statement.
“I have that freedom with the grinder to be able to go in and say that’s too literal, it’s drawing the viewer away from the sort of universality that I want the work to have, and so I go back in and I take parts of letters out and add these,” he explained. “You can see throughout the pieces those kind of arches that I use are almost like organic, curvy bits and I can’t tell you why that’s there. It’s kind of a formal device and it just helps to make them even more intimate and to say to the viewer I’m not telling you what these are, but you interpret them the way you want.”
In contrast to the detail on the front of each piece, the back sides are only flat planes that present a different perspective on the installation as a person walks through the exhibition.
“Each piece has to contribute to the larger statement that I'm trying to make with these deliberate rows and you can walk through it on angles and take all of this in,” he said. “When you enter the exhibition you're able to feel the overallness and when you go to the backs then you realize these are completely different in a sense and yet they are very much a part of the front. There's a sort of a movement from front to back and back to front, and then that implies a certain space between them. It's almost to me like a pulse.”
Bentham's training as an artist started with a degree in painting from the University of Saskatchewan in 1969 and and in 1989 he received a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture from the same university.
“I just gravitated towards working with my hands,” he said. “I give my father great credit. He was a mechanic, he was a shop superintendent for the Department of Highways. ... My dad and all his pals were able to make things. They built me a hotrod when I was 16. I can’t believe how good my dad was to me, considering that I had four other siblings. So that’s where it started and it just seemed so much more real for me to work with my hands and to work in three dimensions than to work on a canvas.”
His sculptures have been exhibited nationally and internationally, including more than 50 solo exhibitions in Canada. His works have been included in the collections of public, corporate and private institutions in the country, and his artworks have been presented at the AGSC a number of times.
The large abstract sculpture Open Series IV at the main entrance to the AGSC and Swift Current Branch Library was created by Bentham in 1977. It has been on location at the R.C. Dahl Centre in Swift Current since 1978. His large sculptures are present in public spaces of different cities across Canada.
He will work on several sculptural series at the same time, which can vary from very large monumental sculptures to small pieces that one can hold in your hand.
“It’s always referenced for me by the human scale, whether it’s very small and something you really have to internalize when you look at it and it’s something you can hold or look into, and then something that moves on to the very large scale,” he said. “The public scale work is in a whole class of its own in the sense that there’s very different demands when you make something that’s for the public. People go by it and they connect to it in different ways and see it every day.”
He believes each artwork represents a brush stroke on a canvas that becomes part of an artist's portrait. He feels an artist has to be aware of the path that he has chosen and the path that he is moving through.
“For me it’s like a river that moves forward, but it’s constantly curving and moving back on itself and then it moves forward again or it might have tributaries,” he said. “We have this time on earth to create something, if that’s what we choose to do, and this is how one moves forward, and for me it’s working in series and not being conscious I’m going to make x number of pieces in it, but one piece leads me to the next. My job is to create a room that has many openings that one can go through and move back and forth through.”
This exhibition of The Tablets is organized by the AGSC in partnership with the Moose Jaw Museum and Art Gallery. The exhibition will be at the AGSC until Feb. 26. The public reception and artist's talk on Feb. 24 is free and everyone is welcome. The doors open at 7 p.m. and the talk starts at 7:30 p.m.
For more information about upcoming events at the AGSC, visit the gallery's website at www.artgalleryofswiftcurrent.org