Billy Al Bengston is an artist and sculptor associated with the “Finish Fetish” genre. Finish Fetish, related to the Light and Space movement, began in the 1960s in Southern California, where artists were inspired by California’s car culture and began using industrial materials like automotive lacquer paint in order to create art objects with smooth, shiny, and brightly colored finishes.
The central motif in Untitled is the military chevron signifying a Master Sergeant’s rank. Bengston commonly featured Military insignias in his artwork in the 1960s, which generated controversy at the time due to the public divide over the Vietnam War. The painting also makes use of complementary color theory, consisting of only blue and orange, colors that sit opposite from one another on the color wheel and highly contrast with one another.
The painting masterfully focuses on layers of colors and shapes. At the center of the image is the military chevron itself, colored a bright, almost metallic aquamarine blue, which gives it a sheen comparable to the metal that these insignias might actually be made of. The chevron is situated on a dark blue octagon, which is encapsulated by a hazy, blue-grey ring. The rest of the canvas is filled with a bright, vibrant orange. By placing the insignia within the context of other geometric forms, the viewer is challenged to see the chevron as a shape, and not a symbol. Additionally, the use of contrasting colors helps bring attention to the geometric form of the military chevron, emphasizing its curved and straight edges.
Artist: Billy Al Bengston
Medium: Oil and lacquer on Masonite in artist’s frame
Type: Light and Space
Dimension: 8 7/8 x 7 7/8 x 1/8 in. (22.54 x 20 x 0.32 cm)
Collection: The Buck Collection at the UCI Institute and Museum for California Art
Copyright: Billy Al Bengston