Known for his sports paintings, city scenes and ability to perform live paintings, artist Ben Mosley, 34, says one of the biggest challenges is to ‘keep reinventing yourself’. LuxuryTopping speaks to Ben about his career, the challenges of being an artist, and his plans for property development and furniture art.
How did you start out?
I did a BA in Fine Art at Chester College, part of the University of Liverpool, from 2000 to 2003. My specialism was painting and lino and mono prints. In the first year, I concentrated on crowd scenes in cities. I looked at artists like Lowry for inspiration because of his matchstick men paintings and the way he was able to capture the narrative. In the final year, my tutor suggested that I paint about football because of my sporting background – I was club captain of the Chester College football team.
I began experimenting with different materials for my prints – pieces of wood, metal – various objects to make marks with. The tutor really liked one of my pieces and suggested I reproduce it on canvas. I combined the printing techniques with painting and started painting about football – I came across a new style. Instead of doing crowd scenes, I tried to capture the community spirit in football that brings people together. It went really well. Chester Town Hall saw my work at the end of year show and commissioned me to do a piece for them. That’s when I thought I could do it for a living. My first professional exhibition was at the Manchester Art Show in 2003.
Which artists do you admire and what inspires you?
The artists that I’ve always looked at are Picasso and Matisse. Particularly the colour of Matisse and the form and structure of Picasso. I’m also inspired by Barcelona as a city and the work of Gaudi. And – of course – Lowry as well. Artists that have an ability really inspire me too. It’s the craft, the skill of being able to get an idea across.
You are considered to be Wembley Stadium’s artist in residence. How did that come about?
My affiliation with Wembley started in 2005. Deutsche Bank wanted to commission me to do a piece for their corporate box. Unfortunately that fell through, but Wembley’s head of client management really liked my work and after a number of conversations – sometimes having to remind her who I was – they commissioned me to do some work for them. I’m now regarded as Wembley’s artist in residence. I have 50 paintings around the concourse including two large-scale murals in black and white which celebrate the history of the stadium. I like using black and white because of the historical aspect to it. It’s like you’re watching an old film or looking through old photographs.
Tell us about your football paintings and Manchester United?
In the run up to the 2006 World Cup, I was doing a lot of solo shows in London exhibiting my football paintings. My work ended up appearing on MTV Base with Trevor Nelson. He used it as the backdrop for his R’n’B show ‘The Lick’ which was televised during the World Cup.
After that, I did some work for the League Managers Association. Jose Mourinho was at one of the events I was painting at. I was commissioned to produce a painting that he would like, which they made into limited edition prints.
That success encouraged me to write to the Professional Footballers Association. Their chief executive, Gordon Taylor, wrote back saying that he would be happy to help. When I met with him I took a painting of Manchester United that I did and asked if there was anyone at the club he could speak to on my behalf. He helped me to get a meeting with David Gill, United’s chief executive at the time, and their chief operating officer Michael Bolingbroke. They liked the painting but wanted something more specific to Manchester United. They invited me back a few months later to watch United play Tottenham to help me get a feel for the club. I ended up painting Wayne Rooney’s overhead kick against Manchester City. Because it was such a special goal, I decided to paint Rooney from different angles – almost like an action replay – so people could relive the excitement of such a special footballing moment. Manchester United loved that painting. Later that year they invited me up to their Christmas dinner with Unicef and I had to give a talk on the painting in front of the first team, Sir Alex Ferguson and all of the directors.
I later did a live painting for them of United legends Peter Schmeichel, Dennis Law and Dennis Irwin, which was auctioned off for the Manchester United Foundation. I’ve managed to raise over £250,000 now for charity through my live painting. Last year, I did one for ITV’s Text Santa with Phillip Schofield.
Because of my reputation as a sports artist and for being able to do live paintings, I was invited to be an official artist for the London Olympics. I produced live paintings at various sporting events throughout the games – rowing, cycling, and Andy Murray in the tennis. I was actually outside the Olympic Stadium at 10 o’ clock at night painting Mo Farrah as he won the 5,000 metres – watching it on the big screen. I also produced a giant mural called ‘We are one’ which celebrated the fact that ordinary people had become athletes. The painting showed crowds of commuters transforming into athletes. I was interviewed about my work on BBC News.
How did your work end up on McDonald’s packaging?
Last year, I was approached by an agency in America who asked if I would be interested in producing a painting for McDonalds depicting the 2014 World Cup. The project turned out to be a global one; they were looking for 12 different artists around the world to represent their country. I was selected as the UK artist and my painting ‘Fans of the world’ was displayed on 64 million fries boxes all around the world. Because of its success they flew me out to New York where I did a live painting at the celebrity launch party for the World Cup. My painting ‘Team spirit’, which is quite iconic, celebrated people coming together and how sport creates unity, a bond and strength.
What other high profile sporting events have you painted?
I was commissioned by Dubai Emirates Golf Club who flew me out to Dubai to paint the Dubai Desert Classic’s 25th Anniversary. I painted Tiger Woods and Stephen Gallacher live. That was pretty special.
You have recently done some work for the housebuilder Taylor Wimpey and that’s something you plan to do more of. What is it that draws you to property development?
It’s not just sport that I’m passionate about; I’m also passionate about London and being British. I want to make a name for myself, not just as a sports artist but as an artist of all genres – and I don’t want to have any labels.
The work I enjoy the most is the large-scale murals. My work is all about the celebration of people coming together and giving people a message of hope, togetherness and unity. Because of the way new communities are being created and bring people together, I think property development allows me to express my ideology. I want the artwork to be part of people’s everyday lives and something that they can enjoy. I like to engage the public with my art, which is why I like the live painting and large murals so much. I want to leave a legacy with my work. It’s a bit like the Bayeux Tapestry. I want to tell a story about a moment in history that future generations will potentially be able to see.
How did the furniture painting come about?
Furniture art is something that I’m passionate about for the same reason – it allows my artwork to be a part of people’s everyday lives. My furniture art initially came about from the 100% Design show earlier this year where I was commissioned by Pantera to produce two chairs, one celebrating the energy of London and the other celebrating the beauty and history of Florence. I think it gives me another string to my bow. The furniture art is a way to challenge myself. I’ll probably look at some contemporary furniture which doesn’t necessarily look like furniture but is more monumental or sculptural. It’s another way to express myself and my painting.
What have been your biggest challenges as an artist?
I think the biggest challenge is how you market yourself. Developing the business side of your brain takes time and experience. The other big challenge is being able to take the knocks and motivate yourself to keep going. And to keep reinventing yourself as an artist. You can’t rest on your laurels and decide one genre is what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. You have to be prepared to adapt.
What were the other career paths that you could have chosen and were there any times when you thought it wouldn’t work out as an artist?
Before going full-time in 2011, I had various jobs to support myself. I was as a sports coach for a while, and after, I ran a fine art foundation course at the Colchester Institute. So – I probably would have continued as a teacher. I enjoyed working with students. I never saw them as students; I saw them as fellow artists. I think teaching is reciprocal; you learn from the students as well. Teaching is a fantastic job and very rewarding but I’m too selfish and too ambitious with what I want to do.
I try not to think about things not working out and what else I could have been because it gives you the option of not doing what you want to do and love doing. But – if I ever get to the highest level as an artist, one of my ambitions is to set up an academy to help and mentor aspiring artists. I would like it to be an artists’ community that helps people to make it in the industry – where you’re also taught the business and life management side of being an artist.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
My advice would be to keep strong and believe in yourself and your ability. That’s the main thing – believing in what you do and working hard. Not letting other people tell you that you can’t do it. That’s the difference between people who make it as artists and those who shy away. If you listen to other people say “how can you make a living”, you’ll never do it. You need to have an incredible self-belief. It’s not always easy. When I meet people they see this bubbly character who’s really passionate; they don’t see your dark moments. It’s your friends and family that pick you up and keep you going – you have to have good support from those close to you and need a positive attitude.
You also need to be able to communicate well and network. You have to keep yourself in people’s minds. Being an artist today is very much about being an entrepreneur and creating your own opportunities – other people won’t do it for you. Try to take every opportunity you can and worry about how you’re going to do it later. I don’t always look for the money. Sometimes you have to think about what will give you good publicity with the view that it will lead onto other things.
Looking back are there things you would have done differently?
There are many times when you think you should have done things differently. One thing you have to realise as an artist is to not let people walk all over you and to fight your corner. But you have to allow yourself to make mistakes. You can’t be too cautious but you do have to protect your brand.