Seduce the Deep

So much of my work revolves around motion.  Figures, elements, events in flux.  The rhythms of movement are extremely engaging for me.

1 Bentley Seduce the Deep

Bentley, Seduce the Deep, 48″ x 60″, oil on canvas, 2015

Though I have spent the bulk of my painting career and training focusing on the figure I have repeatedly explored still-life, landscape, and abstraction as a form of play.  The sense of play in making was ever present in the beginning.  At some point along the way that playful spirit was replaced by work.  Things became more serious.  The demands of making an income and simply becoming more proficient in making the work made the act of making more serious.  The worst blow to my sense of play came eight years ago when my best friend, Chris Lyon, died suddenly in a motorcycle crash.  He was an amazing painter.  We were roommates all through college and even attended the same grad program.  We showed in the same gallery.  His show always followed mine in the schedule.  We competed against one another, pushed each other, and constantly worked to make the other better. Then he was gone.  Painting wasn’t fun anymore. The other side of this whole story is that Chris’ and my work in college was incredibly similar.  Both of our markmaking was based on a noodly, searching, erratic line.  The marks we made would explore, lock onto the form, then lose it again.  Our paintings were constantly being mistaken for the other’s.  When we got to the grad program at Penn, we drew a line in the sand.  The line was somewhere around de Kooning.  Chris took abstraction with figurative influences and I took figuration with abstract influences.  This allowed us to go our own ways .  We remained each other’s top critics since we could see through to the core of each other’s painting.

2 Bentley The Immutability of Change

Bentley, The Immutability of Change, 52” x 60”, oil on canvas, 2015

Just before he died, Chris started to bring figures back into his work.  I was starting to let my figures give way to the abstraction a little more.  The line in the sand was eroding.  When he was suddenly gone, the erosion stopped.  His part of the conversation ended.  Mine just froze where it was. Now, it’s been eight years and I made the decision that the line in the sand must be fluid again.  When I was knee deep in my water series, my body of work exploring figures at play underwater, I started to become intrigued by the motion of just the water.  The ripples pushing and pulling against each other.  I loved the abstraction of it all.  Right away, I made a couple of paintings studying that water motion without figures.  They felt free and dangerous.  Difficult and open. I just finished my goal of ten large scale waterscapes.  It took me more than ten canvases to reach my goal.  There a lot of paintings that couldn’t be saved.  I wanted the goal to give me the freedom to explore.

To find the language of the new direction.  I still paint my figures: dancers, pillow fighters, and couples under water but these abstract paintings provide a new arena to explore. I flip between thinking of them as waterscapes or as nonrepresentational paintings.  It really doesn’t matter.  The results are the same.  Some start from a photo shoot where I’m diving repeatedly underwater shooting as I go, others start by making two dozen thumbnail drawings in my sketchbook, others simply begin with a mark on the canvas followed by the counter mark. The end result is that I get to explore the motion that I love in a new way and I get to play again.

Chris Lyon, Drying Out the Devil's Lungs, 60" x 60", oil on canvas, 2002

Chris Lyon, Drying Out the Devil’s Lungs, 60″ x 60″, oil on canvas, 2002

Bentley, Faster Still, 48" x 60", oil on canvas, 2015

Bentley, Faster Still, 48″ x 60″, oil on canvas, 2015



A Good Start

This gallery contains 7 photos.

There is nothing quite like a good start.  Sometimes having a good start to a painting can be like a springboard, launching you forward in the process.  Other times the good start creates stress as you try to hold onto the strength of the initial drawing instead of allowing the painting to develop on it’s own. … Continue reading


My work on creating a new piece or series starts long before canvases are stretched or colors are mixed.  Since I use figures in my work, I first have to gather my source material.  There is nothing I would rather do than to draw or paint from life.  The energy in a session of working with a live model is palpable.  However with the kind of stories I want to tell, painting from live models is impossible.  Asking models to hold the kind of poses I would need them to would bring a staleness to the work.  The figures would be feel stiff and staged.

Dance shoot.  Photo courtesy of Carson Zullinger.

Bentley working from ladder at dance shoot. Photo courtesy of Carson Zullinger.

Allen Bentley working with models at underwater photo shoot.

Allen Bentley working with models at underwater photo shoot.

The natural way around that issue is to do photo shoots where the models can move right through the moment.  The interactions are genuine, sincere.  My process for staging photo shoots is similar no matter if it is for my dance, water, or wrestling series.  So much depends on finding the right models and attire.  I have a pool of models I work with and regularly place casting calls to find my players.  They are given very specific instructions for what clothes to bring.  Most models end up bringing a suitcase of clothes to choose from.   A lot of the story is told in the attire.  Is it a date night?  A formal event?  Did they intend on being in the water or fall in clothed?  Choosing the right colors, patterns, and fabrics are critical to the feel of the work.

Bentley directing the action as the amazing Bryan Lathrop, who worked as Director of Photography on this shoot, makes it happen.

Bentley directing the action as the amazing Bryan Lathrop, who worked as Director of Photography on this shoot, makes it happen.

Giving directions between dives.

Giving directions between dives.

The photo shoots have been small with just one couple and me behind the camera to a dozen models, assistants, other photographers all working on a tight schedule.  The shoots over the years have taken on the feel of making a small film.  There are lights, ladders or scaffolds, and computers to haul and set up.  Trunks and bags of gear are carried up in to dance studios or around the back of the YMCA to their pool.  Storyboards are made in advance to guide the actions.  I direct the models to try a move again that we found through the process of working but from a different angle.  We repeat moves again and again until I feel we have what I’m looking for.

All of this is to get the shot to make a painting to tell my story.  I love the whole process.  There is an energy on the day of the shoot that I carry with me back to the studio.  It feels like anything is possible.


Bodies of Work

This gallery contains 5 photos.

For years I was known as the guy who painted dancers. That was fine. It was a good shorthand for what I was about. For me, though, dance was never the subject. It was a platform to speak from, a context, parameters to control an exploration. My subject has always been the connection between people. … Continue reading