Finding himself grounded at weekends during the pandemic when he’d usually be travelling, Bill Bensley – master architect and designer behind some of the world’s best hotels – has turned to art to soothe his wanderlust, not to mention raise vital funds for community and conservation projects close to his heart. We check out some Bill Bensley paintings, and we can confirm that they’re very much OutThere!
The last time we caught up with architect, designer, gardener, hotelier and conservationist (not to mention conversationalist) Bill Bensley, he told us how he was keeping himself busy during the pandemic-driven lockdown. What he didn’t tell us back then was that he had rekindled his love for painting – perhaps he wasn’t quite ready to share his work with the world at that time. But it seems Bill’s artsy side has now somersaulted out of the closet.
Bill recently launched his collection of sixty original Bill Bensley paintings at his all-new, by-appointment-only space, BENSLEY Outsider Gallery in Bangkok. We followed his progress keenly, and it became rather clear to us that Bill had caught the bug for painting, as the exhibition quickly grew to over eighty pieces within a month of debuting.
Earlier this week, he closed out the first phase of his art auction, raising over a million Thai Baht (GBP£22,500/USD$31,000) in funds for two causes very close to his heart, the Shinta Mani Foundation and Wildlife Alliance, the NGO that the Foundation collaborates with, whose armed rangers protect the 865-acre rainforest, its flora and fauna at Bensley Collection – Shinta Mani Wild, in Cambodia. We are thrilled to see his ongoing commitment to this important work, particularly at a time when logging and poaching are on the rise because of the pandemic. We were pleased to recently send a £2,500 donation ourselves; as a prize for Bill’s work winning the Most OutThere Initiative in Community, Conservation and Sustainability category at our inaugural Experientialist Awards.
We find his work provocative and boldly colourful. Having had the opportunity to meet the man himself on a number of occasions also allows us to see beyond the paint on canvas. Bill is not a traditionally trained artist, but a self-billed “Outsider artist” (giving the gallery its name), whose work revolves around heartfelt (and topical) subjects of environmentalism, pestilence, racism and – as if specially for OutThere readers – idiosyncratic LGBTQ+ behaviour.
The Bill Bensley paintings are surprising and symbolic; humorous and tongue-in-cheek. They include and draw a lot of inspiration from his personal life, including his husband Jirachai and other friends whom Bill asks to model on weekends at his home Baan Botanica. We enjoy his fauvist, yet individual style … boasting generous use of paint, wild brush work and strident, Bensley-signature use of colour. The mix-medium works (from watercolour; to oils and pastel, not to mention collage) range from smaller A4-sized pieces to more epic works spanning 3 metres.
Hot on the heels of the success of his first auction, Bill has ambitions to create more artwork to help fund his philanthropy. A clever move, we’d say – considering it is usually the proceeds from tourism that pays for these important projects. As the world continues to trundle its way through the pandemic – and tourism slow to recover – the Bill Bensley paintings have the potential to raise the vital funds needed to keep the initiatives going.
We’d fancy a Bensley hanging in our office, to be fair. Now, all we have to do is to decide which one; no simple task as Bill continues to grow as an artist into one that is prolific.
To view his work, pick up an original Bensley or perhaps a print; and support the Shinta Mani Foundation and Wildlife Alliance, visit www.bensley.com/shop
Artwork reproduced with the permission of Bill Bensley