Interview with Ben Oakley as he tells the World “it’s the least I could do!”
We’ve often covered Ben Oakley shows here on Inspiring City, but usually it’s in his role as the owner and curator of the popular independent gallery that bears his name, nestled within the confines of Greenwich Market. Normally one for putting on the shows, this time he’s taken over his own gallery for a show of his own.
For Ben the artist turned gallerist running the Ben Oakley has been a self made mission and over the last four years has provided the platform for many emerging and established artists. Yet, in the back of his mind the artist in him is always there. It’s hard to walk into the Ben Oakley for example and not see snippets of this work. His trademark fairies can often be found hidden in amongst one of the galleries many nooks and crannies.
But something seems to have been missing and as Ben admits “I’ve been putting everything else first”. This following a scare during which he found himself rushed into hospital for what he describes as “a spot of Brain Surgery” the thoughts he had already been having about producing a “healthy solo spread” really started to take some shape. To some extent the title of the show ‘It’s the least I could do’ was an appreciation of the help he’d received during that difficult time. Help that often involved friends taking over the running of the gallery whilst he staged his recovery.
Putting on shows for the past four years, Ben has managed to build up close relationships with a huge variety of artists each with highly individual styles. We’ve covered a number of them here on Inspiring City including feature interviews with the likes of ATM, Rugman, SNUB and John McCarthy all of whom were exhibiting at the gallery. This year also saw one of the most original shows of the year featuring stencil artist Yvonne Wayling and flower designer, Sarah Williams. A collaboration that worked so well but which surely would only have been tried by a gallery such as this.
On average he manages to put on 12 shows a year, in itself, a remarkable record for an independent gallery, and something that fortunately the layout of the building allows. Solo shows take place on the ground floor whilst the first and second floors are packed with art from a variety of artists turning it into a veritable Aladdin’s cave which feels like a discovery each time you go in. The top floor contains artist studios meaning that this gallery is not just for showcasing art. As for its earthy decor… “it’s all intentional” says Ben. “It puts people at ease and lets them see what the artworks can look like in an informal homely interior.”
One thing that is guaranteed to happen as part of his own show is that there will be a whole bunch of focus on the famous Ben Oakley fairies. Created over 10 years ago these were inspired by the Cottingley cousins who had fooled the World in the 1920’s into believing that there were fairies living in the bottom of their garden. Adding a spray can to the fairies hand his updated version became the ‘London Graffairy’ and “people really started liking her” says Ben. “Someone had a tattoo of her, then someone made me some necklaces and I started to put her into my artworks.”
Visiting the gallery on opening night those fairies are in abundance nestling alongside the hoards of visitors. They’ve become a part of the show itself becoming a part of the fabric of the gallery and of Ben’s art. They are overseeing this latest show, which in itself is quite a remarkable feat considering the fact that only weeks before he was recovering from a major operation, the scars of which are now a permanent marker. This show seems like a re-awakening!
Ben Oakley was interviewed over email on 10 June 2015 and is the owner and curator of the Ben Oakley Gallery in Greenwich Market. His show ‘It’s the least I could do’ opens in the gallery on 19 June 2015.
Ben Oakley Gallery