Process

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.

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Gallery

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