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Billy Al Bengston ('57) was born in 1934 at Dodge City, Kansas. From 1953 to 1957 he studied art in Los Angeles and San Francisco, finishing at the Los Angeles County Art Institute (now Otis College of Art and Design.) He had his first one-person exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in 1958. His mentor at Otis, Peter Voulkos, taught his students to defy standardized rules about making art. Unlike Voulkos, who worked in ceramics, Bengston decided early on to paint.
According to art historian Andrew Perchuk, he is one of a number of “West Coast artists, including Robert Irwin and Ken Price, who were instrumental in redefining the terms of artistic identity in the early '60s by insisting that subcultural affinities and leisure-time activities (surfing, car customizing) were at the foundation of their artistic personas.”