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Fletcher Benton papers, 1934-2014

Biographical Note

Fletcher Benton was born in Jackson, Ohio in 1931 to Fletcher and Nell Cavett Benton and was the oldest of three children. Benton graduated from Jackson High School in 1949. After serving in the Navy he graduated from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) in 1956 and moved to San Francisco, where he started working as an instructor at the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1959. He was in San Francisco during the flourishing of the Beat generation, where he had a studio in the North beach area and exhibited at coffee house galleries.
After travelling around Europe in 1960, Benton moved to New York City where he tried to make his living through painting and teaching privately. During those years he was supported by Jackson's local arts patron and family friend, Lillian E. Jones. In 1960 he had his first solo exhibition at Gump's gallery in San Francisco, but his work was taken down after one day because it was considered obscene for including female nudes. He returned to San Francisco in late 1961.
In 1966 Fletcher started teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute and established himself as a primary figure of American kinetic art. In 1966, Peter Selz included his work in the exhibition
Directions in Kinetic Sculpture
at the University Art Gallery in Berkeley, CA. During the exhibition Benton met the artists Pol Bury and George Rickey with whom he became friends. The exhibition, along with an article "The Movement Movement" that appeared in Time magazine the same year, established Benton's reputation as a significant American Kinetic artist. He also started teaching at the California State University in San José in 1967 where he continued working until 1986.
By 1974 Benton abandoned kinetic art to continue exploring sculpture in three dimensions in a style that became known as "new constructivism." The artworks were conceived in the series
Folded Circles
and
Folded Square Alphabets
and were produced in bronze, aluminum and steel. It was also during the 1970s that he started doing large-scale commissions such as the 1977 IBM commission.
Between 1981 and 1984 Benton constructed his studio in Dore Street in the Market district of San Francisco where he continues to work today. During the 1980s Benton started his
Balanced/Unbalanced
series, which introduced the idea of gravity using geometric forms in different formats and sizes.
From 1984 he began to show more work in Europe, especially in Germany, where in 1993 he got a major commission to create a colossal public sculpture in Cologne entitled
Steel Watercolor Triangle Ring
. It was also in Germany where Benton encountered the work of Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich, and he began work on his
Construct Relief
series in reponse, which he dedicated to Kandinsky. These geometric constructions are flat, canvas-like steel structures that combine features of painting and sculpture. As the series evolved, the work became more like painting, constructed to hang on the wall without a back piece, so they seem to be floating in the space.
Benton continues to live and work in San Francisco and is represented by multiple galleries in the United States and Germany.