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.

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

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

Articulations, Mendel Art Gallery, 1984

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

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.

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

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