After mistakenly having thought he made your reporter miss City’s second goal in this season’s second FA Cup semi-final, Ben Mosley first apologised before continuing to put brush to canvas on a piece later auctioned for the Teenage Cancer Trust to the tune of £5k.
His live-painting was again in evidence at Sandown Park Racecourse on June 15 when the subject was Genocide and Mosley talked to us before expressing himself at the invitation of charity Not On Our Watch.
“I live-paint in front of live audiences to help raise money for charity. I produce a piece of artwork within a certain time frame that is then included in the live auction,” Ben explains. “So far I have helped to raise £32,000 through the sale of my artwork and the donation of paintings.
“My work won’t remind anyone of those grainy old shots from the 50s and 60s, much as I love them, because I’m all about reflecting where we are now. There are plenty of realistic artists at work in sport but I want to make a statement.”
So, as Orwell claimed, is sport really just war without the shooting, in Ben’s opinion?
“I’ve had no previous experience with the subject matter but I’m very excited about the possibilities of the Not On Our Watch event. Of course, there’s the argument that athletes are modern-day gladiators but I don’t see a direct link at all.”
Attempting NOT to compete for a pseuds corner spot in Private Eye we touch on Ben’s style: as well as abstract expressionists in the vein of Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Kline and Krasner, he actually cites Picasso (for his form and structure) and Matisse (choice of colour) as influences in our discussion.
Yet more of an influence still might be LS Lowry’s Going to the Match, a point Ben happily concedes.
“But all my influences are loose ones, I just take elements of other people’s style and I’m most passionate about the positive nature of sport.”
Besides football he can count tennis; cycling, with the Movement of Wiggins, and Olympic work including Usain Bolt, David Phelps, Mo Farah, Team GB and the Coxless fours gold medal winners [see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEiNQ8ktA8U] among his muses.
“I suppose my colours are quite different and I’m just glad I’ve been able to develop into other sports. As for the work I produced at London 2012, in the first week of the games I produced a large-scale mural We Are One. I wanted to get the message across that the athletes come from us, the people. It was hand painted directly onto the wall and documents the achievements of Team GB.”
“Football-wise I’m a Barnsley fan and was lucky enough to work as their official artist for the 2007/08 season, but I’ve always seen a lot of romance in Manchester United, and I well remember following their 1999 Treble and thinking of it in terms of a modern fairytale. They also approached me after they saw my 2010 work celebrating management, A Manager for all Seasons, which was commissioned by Richard Bevan at the LMA.”
Next came History, which featured each winner of the Players’ Player of the Year award from 1974-2011. Commissioned by the PFA, it was also auctioned off.
Here is one firm advocate of the return of Jose Mourinho to the English game, one reason being the so-called special one’s welcome endorsement at a crucial point in Ben’s career: “He signed my LMA [League Managers’ Association] picture, which represented all the teams of the four divisions as well as all of the trophies.”
Alec Ferguson, too, earned Ben’s eternal approval thanks to his intervention in the bidding for Ben’s rendering of Wayne Rooney’s February, 2011 goal for United versus neighbours City, when the proceeds went to UNICEF. “That was unbelievable to find out he liked it, and that night he only had encouraging words for me even though he soon dropped out of the bidding!
“Then there was a dinner for the MU Foundation where I painted Dennis Irwin, Peter Schmeichel and Denis Law in front of an audience of 400 guests. That was sold for £2.5k to benefit the Foundation’s various causes.”
Other Mosley beneficiaries so far include: The Mo Farah Foundation, The Mark Anderson Foundation, Great Ormond Street Hospice, The Willow Foundation, The Bobby Moore Fund, Teenage Cancer Trust, Kick It Out and Marie Curie Cancer Care, as well as Not on Our Watch.
“The sense of losing control and letting go to gain control is a method I use frequently. I paint straight on to the canvas to maintain a certain amount of spontaneity in each painting,” Ben continues. “I believe this makes each painting individual and gives them a unique personality.”
Turns out the Wembley example that stopped this philistine in his tracks was called The Chelsea Boys v the City Slickers, so what does live painting entail, exactly?
“I feel when I live-paint that the link between what I’m doing and the athletes themselves is the kind of pressure we are under. It inspires me to identify with them.
“Because I want to capture the dynamism, excitement and movement of the environment around me, my brushwork is angular and vigorous, and conveys the explosion of energy that happens within sport and everyday life.
“So far it’s been sports-based and predominantly football and it’s been my full-time job since 2011. I studied Fine Art at the University Of Liverpool from 2000 to 2003.”
Ben does lament the changes in the game exemplified by the Sky TV era [post-1992], however. “OK, in some ways the game is more colourful than it was and SkySports has done a lot of good, but the players are no longer close to the fans and with all the money has come a kind of homogeneity.
“But the media in general has only served to make the game more inaccessible if you ask me.”
Having been given a platform he seems to genuinely want to change attitudes by bringing artists together and not just sit on his laurels hogging what is an enviable position (Club Wembley artist in residence) in anyone’s book.
“It’s good to form relationships with fellow artists. I don’t feel the art world understands sport and just how powerful sport can be in unifying people and we need to bridge the gap between the two worlds.”
Which brings us neatly back to Wembley: “Club Wembley commissioned me to depict its history and there are 40 or so of my pictures on display there.”
Central to these are 12 canvases consisting of six paintings about the old Wembley and six about the new Wembley, with a mural linking them. “On the sixth of the old canvases, the crowd leave the painting by walking out of the canvas, along the wall and then jump straight into the seventh canvas, which shows the crowd walking to the new Wembley,” Ben says.
The 12 canvases in total with the mural make up a composition which spans nearly 50 metres along the wall at the national stadium which was reopened in 2007 following a break of six years.
“My second mural documents the greatest ever events to happen at Wembley from 1923, when it first opened, to the present day. Hand-painted directly on to the wall, the mural is influenced by the Bayeux Tapestry and documents the crowd walking through time witnessing each event taking place.
“Sportsmen come and go but for me the celebration of a goal, for example, is more a representation of place for me, I really care about place.”
While I may not actually have missed City’s second against Chelsea at all, even if I had, this glimpse of Ben in his element on such a grand stage might just have made it worthwhile. Let us know what you make of his work and of his ambitions!