The Frank Bentley Story
Frank Bentley sadly died on February 6th
2006, it was an unexpected death just one day before his 65th
birthday. This is his story.
Born 7th February 1941 in Halifax, Frank
had a loving and caring Mother and a wayward Father who drank
and gambled and left the family home when Frank was 12. He
grew up in a working class environment in a predominantly
female household, with his Mother and younger sister Joyce.
Joyce has early memories of the “arty”
side of Frank. He had started to write a book but this manuscript
was never completed and was later destroyed. Poems that he
wrote later in life were published in three anthologies and
show Frank to have a rather deep and mournful out look and
perhaps insight into his own death. The earliest art work
we have on record is from 1959 when Frank was 18 and appears
to be a self-portrait. Joyce remembers that he liked to sketch
a lot some of which survive today.
Frank won a watercolour competition at the
local cinema with a painting of the family cat, (the cat was
to become a recurring theme). However despite these leanings
Frank decided he better get a proper job and took an apprenticeship
as an electrician. He married early and briefly. He then met
Diana the lady with whom he shared many years of his life
and who is the Mother of his only child Peter Bentley.
So here we have Frank in his thirties and
still not having shown any serious signs of his desire to
become an artist. What we do know is that he found it very
difficult to settle down to a normal way of life. He had very
strong old-fashioned moral values and was a rather solitary
figure. He was not to find his calling for several years yet.
Frank by now had long hair, and was quite a character. His
dress sense had become more bohemian, he never wore shirts
always jumpers, big and layered.
He drifted into the antiques and bric a brac
trade having several shops. The shop was called Emily’s
and we have since uncovered some early art works by Frank
but signed Emily which he may have tried to sell in the shop,
he subsequently became unemployed preferring to be a “househusband
“and to bring up his son.
He drifted back into painting and has said
in the past “to satisfy an emotional and creative need”
Franks work is in acrylic and mixed media, which gives it
a matt finish like chalk. He painted from his imagination
only, often closing his eyes to rough sketch the outline image
on the surface that he could see through his minds eye. The
style is pure British naïve painting, retaining a child
like quality but the colours and shapes reflect the creative
instincts of a mature mind. He became a full time artist at
the age of 41.
Early works, the hills and dales series,
show him to have a penchant for the dark and gloomy landscape.
They are slightly uncomfortable to behold having a nightmarish
realism. A storm approaching, a great swaggering mountain,
gloomy dark shadows and hillside cottages cowering next to
huge slabs of black rock. They are fantastical with any humans
appearing as pale, ghostly wan figures worthy of Munch. These
works have a distinct quality and are forbidding and entrancing
all at once. In April 1984 Frank had a solo exhibition of
these works in Calderdale, he had been painting professionally
for two years.
What followed was just a gradual process,
Frank discovered at last what made him tick. He was happy
in his Greenside studio painting and developing his own very
distinctive style. He lived a classic bohemian life style,
alternating between running and keeping very fit and heavy
bouts of drinking. He entered his art into open exhibitions
both in Leeds Art Gallery, Manchester and Hull Ferens Art
Galleries where his art works were always accepted and often
sold. He had shows in the Lowry in Manchester regularly and
gradually he became noticed by other gallery owners leading
onto work being exhibited all over England. Frank’s
work found fame also in America where there is a strong naïve
It was indeed at the Ferens Winter Open Exhibition
that Frank first came to the notice of Steve Eccles. A passionate
lover of art from an early age, Steve immediately felt an
affinity with Frank’s work. He was not to know how much
a part of our lives Frank would become.
20 years after this first sighting of Frank’s
art, Bohemia Galleries is about to stage a major retrospective
in honour of Frank. First planned over two years ago when
Frank had a very successful solo exhibition at Bohemia Galleries
Beverley, it is the family’s wish that the show goes
ahead. Throughout the exhibition most work will be available
to purchase, previously unseen paintings spanning 25 years
of Frank’s career. It will be a once and for all opportunity
to see the evolution of one great and highly treasured artist’s
The exhibition in the York Gallery 7, Gillygate
and run from Friday 23rd March through to 15th April. Catalogue
Frank, Kate & Sheana