October 24, 2022
Billy Al Bengston, a long-time Venice Family Clinic Art Walk & Auction artist and supporter who helped establish modern art on the West Coast in the 1950s and 60s, died October 8 at his home in Venice. He was 88.
Al Bengston was the Venice Art Walk signature artist in 1984 and loyally donated art to the auction year after year. He also opened his Venice studio as part of the event’s studio tours to help the Clinic raise funds for its vital community-based services, which benefitted artists then and now.
“Billy was an icon in the Venice and West Coast art communities, and we have always been appreciative of his participation in our annual Venice Art Walk,” said Elizabeth Benson Forer, CEO and executive director of Venice Family Clinic. “Having an artist of his caliber understand and support the mission of the Clinic – to provide quality primary health care to people in need – has been a boon for us over the years. He was always a pleasure to be around, and he brought a vibrant energy to all our Venice Art Walk events. He will be missed.”
As a teen, Al Bengston moved with his family from Kansas to Los Angeles in 1948 and quickly fell in love with the city’s sun and ocean. Al Bengston, along with other legendary Venice Art Walk artists including Ed Ruscha and Ed Moses, would become known in the 1960s as being part of the LA Cool School as much for his artwork as for his personal interests. He loved surfing, custom cars and motorcycles and reflected that in his work, often using bright colors and highly lacquered paint.
In many ways, Al Bengston helped put LA on the art world map, including by being a part of the storied Ferus Gallery on North La Cienega Boulevard. He also supported other artists, including Frank Gehry, another Venice Art Walk artist who designed one of Al Bengston’s LACMA exhibits. Gehry told the Los Angeles Times that Al Bengston “welcomed me in as an artist to his world, when I was just starting out. That was really important to me — I was invited into the family.”
Al Bengston is survived by his wife, Wendy Al.