The Outsider Art of Bill Bensley
Bill Bensley is a jack of all trades. Best known as an architect, interior designer and landscape designer who has brought to life over 200 resorts, hotels and palaces in more than 30 countries. Bill is also a gardener, fisherman, lover of all things natural, and most recently, an artist, for which Bill considers himself an outsider because he was not traditionally trained in fine art, and therefore sees the art world through a different lens. Bill found this passion four years ago and soon began practicing wherever he went – aeroplanes, site visits, on the back of menus; drawing hundreds of portraits on-the-go. This escalated during COVID as he suddenly went from travelling 30 weeks a year to not travelling at all.
Now on any given day Bill is painting in the early hours of the morning before heading to his design studio BENSLEY, where he works with his team of 150 interior designers, architects, landscape designers, artists, and graphic designers. Also in his studio is Bill’s other half, Jirachai and their six Jack Russells. Together the team creates the best sustainable luxury hospitality experiences in the world.
Most weekends Bill can be found painting at his Bangkok jungle home, ‘Baan Botanica’, working on huge canvases which explore Environmentalism, Pestilence, Racism, the idiosyncratic behaviours of the LGBTQ community and Dreams.
Through the River City Bangkok programme of auctions and exhibition, ’The Outsider Art of Bill Bensley’ shows the world through his eyes as a designer, a lover of nature, an artist, and storyteller. A true expression of the unique and enchanting person that Bill is: humorous, unapologetically colourful, dizzyingly fun, surprising and always full of heart.
‘The Outsider Art of Bill Bensley’
As someone who was never formally trained as an artist, Bill Bensley is constantly learning from other artists and observing how they manifest their own perspective of their surroundings, emulating their styles while gradually finding his own which is full of humour, gorgeous details, brilliant colours and enchanting figures. The body of works available for sale online and at the exhibition are told in five chapters. Each showcase Bill’s evolution as an artist as he delves into his surroundings to create art from daily life.
Adventures and Encounters in Remote Papua
A series of paintings and sketches that Bill did of the kind peoples of Papua New Guinea who moved him deeply. In December 2019, Bill travelled aboard a boat called the Kudanil Explorer along with his sister Anne, friend and longtime collaborator Jason Friedman, and other friends. Together they explored these very remote islands that have existed for thousands of years with very little connection to modern society. Bill can speak Indonesian, and as a result could communicate with the locals as he painted them. At every new island, locals gathered with excitement to meet the newcomers, and Bill was equally excited to meet them, drawing people and talking to them, learning their stories and writing them on the back of each sketch. Bill was also delighted by the dazzling array of spectacular fish he saw in the surrounding waters. After making sketches and watercolor paintings on the spot, Bill returned to Bangkok and created full-scale paintings based off these field sketches. On the back of each painting one will find the original sketch, and its story of that encounter – a gorgeous personal touch.
Environmentalism – The World from a Gardener’s Perspective
While his passion for art has only recently been realized, Bill is a lifelong conservationist who first trained as a landscape architect before becoming an architect and interior designer. He is committed to conservation and protection of the environment and this shows in his work. One hundred percent of proceeds from his artwork is donated to the conservation efforts of Wildlife Alliance and the good work of the Shinta Mani Foundation. Environmentalism is truly the core of what Bill does, and who he is. In this chapter, figures are painted enlaced with nature, working as one with it rather than living separate from the natural world – something Bill lives by. Many of the paintings teach a lesson about the environment, with names such as “The Greatest Danger to our Future is Apathy” a quote by Jane Goodall, or “If we take care of nature, nature will take care of us” by David Attenborough – two great heroes of Bills.
Pestilence and Racism
Bill is a great lover of colour and diversity, and this comes too in his artwork where he preaches that the only thing that should be separated by colour is laundry! Here, paintings about racism convey Bill’s thoughts on what is a very serious issue by playing on colour and juxtaposing traditional roles, always with some humour and great attention to detail. Here too, Bill looks at our world during COVID with the piece called “All they had to do was stay at home and watch TV” which shows COVID having reached outer space and aliens watching the scene and complaining as to humanity’s deep ineptitude. The skies are dark from the pollution caused by humans as the aliens look down on earth and think that all those humans do was sit at home and watch tv.
The Idiosyncratic behaviours of the LGBTQIA community
The next chapter is about, as Bill says, the ‘Friends of Dorothy’ – the idiosyncratic behaviours of the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual) community. Bill loves Thailand for a myriad of reasons, one of them being that people here are accepted, no matter their race or sexual orientation. Here one sees the community in Thailand through Bill’s eyes, showing many of his and his husband Jirachai’s friends whom Bill asks to model on weekends at his home Baan Botanica. Many of these paintings show two of Bill’s muses: a Brazilian model named Gui who got stuck in Bangkok due to COVID, and an American friend named Trey, also an artist, who lives here in Bangkok. This is very light-hearted and funny. As in his hotel design, Bill loves to show people things they might not expect!
For the last chapter of the exhibition, guests are taken on a journey into Bill’s mind, exploring his dreams and the artwork that comes from them. It is an adventure into the figments of his imagination, starring the artwork “Nothing Happens unless first we dream” as well as pieces such as “Travels with Gramma” which show one of Bill’s muses, Gui, walking through a field of oversized, dreamlike “Kakti” in an imagined Madagascar. This venture into the subconscious and the dream state also ties back to the start of the exhibition – the Bensley Cinema – where guests learnt about who Bill is as a designer, and what BENSLEY does as a studio. Dreams, for designers, are the starting point of everything, and so perhaps the end of this exhibition is just the start of something more for those who came to visit.
The Timed Auction will commence on World Environment Day, 5 June and run until 30 June 2021.
Ten paintings from the forthcoming exhibition of the same name at River City Bangkok 15 September to 21 November will be auctioned commencing on World Environment Day, 5 June and running until the final bid on 30 June 2021. Preview Bill Bensley’s paintings in the Room 249 and 250 (2nd floor) of River City Bangkok until 30 June 2021. Free entry
NOTE: As these ten paintings are an important part of the exhibition narrative, it would be greatly appreciated by Bill Bensley if the successful bidders would agree to lend their painting to the exhibition until it closes on 21 November 2021. Should the successful bidder wish, they will be thanked by name in the exhibition. “This painting is graciously on loan to the exhibition by (name).”
Register for bidding: https://www.rcbauctions.com/login/
Invaluable Auctions: https://www.invaluable.com/auction-house/rcb-auctions-jd267jtnht
River City Bangkok: https://rivercitybangkok.com/blog/2021/05/the-outsider-art-of-bill-bensley