Talon Gustafson, WOW HUH: Billy Al
By Talon Gustafson
While emailing Billy Al Bengston to set up this interview I felt like I was communicating with some sort of lyncanthrope. Often times I would get a 3-5 word response, sometimes that response had little to do with what I had asked him, sometimes it was indecipherable. Not to mention, everything was in all caps with questionable syntax and words misspelled or abbreviated in new, unorthodox ways. My initial thought was that he was fucking with me, and that's probably partially true, after all, Bengston is a very literate individual: He has been a professor, a student and a grant writer (he's won several). He's also refreshingly unpretentious, witty and wields a hilarious sense of humor.
Bengston is a seminal west coast artist. A member of the original Ferus Gallery stable, he is perhaps most famous for merging car/surf culture into his art. He was the first artist to paint with automotive lacquer, seamlessly fusing his life and work. Along with Larry Bell, John McCracken, Ed Ruscha and Craig Kauffman, Bengston helped create and establish the LA art scene in the late 50s.
On your website bio it says you were born Kansas and slowly migrated to LA Where did you live in between and why did you end up in LA?
1/2/3/4/ 6 / 8 IN KANSAS
5/ 7 / 9 ON IN CALIF.
WORLD WAR 2, RATIONING, $ WERE REASONS
Did it take you long to accumulate to LA culture? Did you ever feel out of place when you first got there?
CULTURE DID NOT EXIST TIL 1956 IF U DISCOUNT CAR & SURF
How did you become involved with the Ferus Gallery?
ONLY REAL GIG IN TOWN
What did you think of the more assemblage-based approach that was happening then with artists like Berman, Bruce Conner and Ed Kienholz?
BERMAN, A BORE, CONNER IN S. F.- A1, KIENKOLZ , BEGINNING TO BE AN INOVATOR.
Did Berman's arrest and trial impact you? Were you present during the police raid?
NO & NO
You worked as stuntman every now and again? What was your best stunt?
PAYING THE RENT
Motorcycle culture has been en vogue recently: Jesse James, American Chopper, Sons of Anarchy. What are you thoughts on it's popularity?
THAT IS NOT CULTURE AS MUCH AS COIFFURE OR PLASTIC SURGERY.
Is leisure time as valuable as hard work?
It is fairly common now for artists too outsource the production of their work. Any thoughts on that way of working?
IT IS DESIGN USUALLY DONE BY UNTRAINED DESIGNERS
In the essay James Monte wrote about you for the LACMA, he references Roy Lichenstein's Roto-Broil as an example of what he called "dumb" composition, – a symmetrical composition with a centralized image appropriated from advertising language. What are your thoughts on this?
WORDS WITHOUT MEANING -----
Hearts and chevrons. Titling a painting of an iris Dracula. Denting pristine surfaces. Reflecting the gaze with the glare of automotive paint. Are these things paradoxical to you?
DUNNO WHAT THAT MEANS
What is the importance of the glared surface in your work?
ALL LIGHT IS TO BE CONSIDERED
Are you influenced by Eastern thought?
DO YOU MEAN THE EAST COAST OR THE ORIENT ?
Would you consider your work optimistic?
I DONT EQUATE WORDS LIKE THAT . TRY HIP, SHARP, BEAUTIFUL, A1, PERFECTO.
From what I've read, you weren't much of a student. Did teaching provide you with the opportunity to address some of your issues with your education?
TEACHERS IN THE ART DEPT. WERE AND IN GENERAL ARE JUST STIFFS THAT ARE NOT ARTISTS, TRYING TO TEACH SOMETHING THAT IS UNTEACHABLE TO KIDS THAT JUST WANT TO MAKE A GRADE SO THEY CAN DO THE SAME. NO.
What was it like having Judy Chicago as a student? Did the two of you see eye to eye?
SHE WAS NOT A STUDENT OF MINE BUT ASKED FOR SOME TECH TIPS THAT I GAVE HER WHICH SHE USED FOR A CAREER. SHE IS MUCH SHORTER THAN ME.
Do you think there are too many artists now? Is it too easy to be an artist these days?
THERE CAN NEVER BE TO MANY ARTISTS JUST TOO MANY USEING THE TITLE. HARD OR EASY , YOU GOT IT OR NOT. IF YOU DO HAVE IT ITS A WICKED BITCH THAT WILL BE GOOD TO U IF U KEEP HER IN LINE.
Should artists be aggressive?
WHAT DIFFERANCE DOES IT MAKE?
Any advice for artists?
GIDDY UP MOTHERFUCKER.