Culture

VIDEO: You Really Need to See Bill Bensley’s First-Ever Art Exhibit

Asia’s brightest starchitect is taking a star turn as a fine artist, with his first exhibit in Bangkok. Hear from Bill Bensley himself on becoming a painter and sculptor during Covid.

Bill Bensley

By Jeninne Lee-St. John

Feb 7, 2022

BILL BENSLEY IS ONE OF those people we can’t stop writing about, because, well, he just doesn’t stop. One of the most prolific hotel designers out there, he during the pandemic slowdown pivoted ever-so-slightly to prove he could be a ridiculously productive fine artist as well. His first ever exhibition as painter and sculptor, Bill Bensley Presents LOVE – CAMP – EXPLORE – DREAMS, is a kaleidoscopic romp through his imagination and memory bank. It opened January 28 in Bangkok and by day two was already half sold-out, with several pieces heading for Art Basel.

Bill Bensley Painter
The Blue Palms of MY MY – a field sketch from Papua

Bensley is the visionary behind at least two former No. 1 hotels in the world, Capella Ubud in Bali and the Oberoi Udaivillas in Udaipur. But the portfolio of output from his studios in Bangkok and Bali is so mind-bogglingly vast that it has spawned not one but two gargantuan coffee-table books: Escapism and More Escapism, the latter of which just debuted concurrent with his art exhibit. His own branded Bensley Collection and Shinta Mani hotel properties fund conservation projects and hospitality education via the Shinta Mani Foundation – which will also receive all proceeds from sales of this show and his books.

In the way that no Bensley hotel is the same as any other yet you can almost always feel his imprimatur percolating through, his paintings and sculptures pulse with his giant personality and detailed recollections, yet are informed by a vast range of influences. In fact, he takes one artist per month as inspiration to ensure he keeps learning. Throughout this show, you can see shades of Paul Gaugin, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Brice Marden, among others. 

FROM LEFT: He threw himself eagerly into the paths of unsuitable men; Bangkok Loves Me – Pak Klong Talad.

Portraiture, Impressionism, Abstractism, Minimalism. It’s a diverse oeuvre, on mostly massive canvases, mostly in vibrant acrylic paint. Though you’ll notice some white-out, pencil, porcelain, playful papier mache, larger-than-life installations, hand-hewn frames, Burmese house paint, and 3D textures made using wood, beeswax, and acrylic mixed with baking soda, which Bensley sets on fire. His musings include commentary on the LGBT community, race, travel, even Covid.

While the sheer volume of work he’s created over three years is astounding, don’t be surprised at his range. After all, he has been a highly successful landscape and interior designer, architect, hotelier, collector, conservationist and philanthropist prior to becoming a painter, sculptor and whatever other Bill Bensley he decides to manifest next. (Hint: I’m told a children’s book is in the works. Watch out.)

LOVE – CAMP – EXPLORE – DREAMS is open to the public until February 28, 2022, at River City Bangkok Galleria on 2nd floor; free entry.

All photos and video courtesy of Bill Bensley.

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