Douglas Bentham’s The Tablets speak a ghostly language. A sculpture in the second row features a chunk with the year “189-” something on it, while a chunk on another sculpture commemorates someone possibly named Emily or Emile. It’s not clear.
Bentham, an experienced Saskatchewan artist, was at the Chapel Gallery on Wednesday, Oct. 4 to discuss his sculpture collection, The Tablets, with an audience of about a couple dozen. Fittingly, his voice resonated in the gallery’s space with such intensity that full sentences in which he spoke of his work eluded recording.
The Tablets is composed of 27 sculptural works installed in symmetrical rows. Bentham cut bronze and brass panels and welded them together in patterns that suggest yet avoid messages and symbols. The installation’s placard states “the presentation of these tablet-like constructions contributes to a layered, overarching narrative of time, history, mortality, and the general fragility of the human condition.”
Bentham was born in Rosetown and now lives in Dundurn. He holds a BFA and MFA, and Bentham’s public sculptures can be found in Ottawa, Saskatoon, and Calgary, and in galleries across the prairies.
Bentham is best known for large scale public sculptures, but he said creating small scale work gave him the most pleasure.
Artistic practice involved jumbling letters up, including “bits of this, bits of that,” and intentionally dodging discernibility. Bentham said that he found himself “creating a history of all of us,” while lacking specificity regarding what that history is.
Prominent Canadian arts writer Jeffery Spalding wrote an evocative essay in pamphlets at the gallery.
“The Tablets are a collective portrait of the artistic travels of a senior artist. Does either side represent his past, deep past, or else his present and future? There are offered clues and inferences but no clear path.”
The Tablets is organized by the Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery and Art Gallery of Swift Current. The installation will be at the Chapel Gallery until Sunday, Oct. 15, and runs concurrently with paintings by Bob Pitzel and Bryce Erickson, which run until Monday, Oct. 23.