Gwynn Murrill and Billy Al Bengston go far back enough that they can’t seem to remember the exact moment that they met. Billy says it was during his last year of teaching at UCLA and “Gwynn was the best student in the art department,” while Gwynn recalls meeting Billy through their mutual friend, Tony Berlant, sometime in the 60s hanging out with “the Venice boys.”
About sixty years later, the two remain dear friends, sharing a deep respect for one another’s craft as made clear by the distinctive display of their works traded over decades between their homes. Hanging above a shelf of her own clay maquettes, Gwynn points to one of Billy’s “Valentines,” a body of work that has become Billy’s own highest token of affection. Since their original reveal at Ferus Gallery in 1960, Billy has unexpectedly gifted his Valentine works in times of gratitude, celebration, and solace to those he loves most. Today, we take a fresh look at this intimate body of work, which has long lacked public opportunity, yet whose sole purpose is to offer a comforting gift to the receiver. At Billy’s home, Gwynn’s bronze and cherry wood sculptures relish the space with their curvaceous form, glinting in every light-source with their impossible smoothness and soul.
The two lifelong friends, now both in their 80s, will present work together in public dialogue for the first time. Gwynn’s satiny sculptures of lovers and animals are euphorically calm amidst Billy’s forthright “Valentine” paintings of central hearts that stretch outward amidst flinging rocks and open oceans, showing love’s passionate and ineffable role during hardship. Billy’s inclination to give paintings a core structure is heavily rooted in the years he spent as a student of the legendary ceramicist, Peter Voulkos, and his time throwing clay with his studio mate and best friend, Ken Price. Individually meditative and intuitive in their process, friends and artists Gwynn Murrill and Billy Al Bengston share a lifetime commitment to cultivating and collapsing both subject and object from the inside-out.
Gwynn Murrill (b. 1942, Ann Arbor, MI) lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Murrill has had solo exhibitions at L.A. Louver, Venice, CA; the Laguna Art Museum, CA; Washburn Gallery, New York, NY and Ernie Wolfe Gallery (in a Two-Person exhibition with Ed Moses), Los Angeles, CA. Her work has been included in group exhibitions at the Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA; Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, CA; the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln, MA; Honolulu Museum of Art, HI; and William Turner Gallery, Los Angeles, CA. Murrill is in a number of public collections including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA; Portland Museum of Art, OR; Palm Springs Desert Museum, CA; and the National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson, WY.
Billy Al Bengston (b. 1934, Dodge City, KS) lives and works in Venice Beach, CA and Honolulu, HI. Bengston has had major solo presentations at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; the San Francisco Museum of Art, CA; the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX; and a three-person retrospective with Ed Ruscha and Ed Moses at the New Britain Museum of American Art, CT. His work is included in a number of important permanent collections including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, FR; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; the Chicago Art Institute, IL; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA.