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.

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

     

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

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.

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

 

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