What a lot I have learned about bees their plight in the last few months. They make fascinating subject matter. One cloudy morning in January I went to meet Steve Benbow the urban bee keeper. I wanted to talk to him about bees and their plight, to get some sort of inspiration for the show. Here before me sat a man who could not have been more amiable and passionate about his profession of beekeeping. He is ruled by his hives and spends every waking hour in the summer tending them.
He was inspired to start bee keeping when he lived in a flat in Bermondsey. Originating from Shropshire he wanted to create a little bit of the countryside on the rooftop of his building. Unsure as how bees would thrive in the city on a roof-top he held back until he bought a very old copy of ABC- XYZ, an encyclopaedia of bees and bee keeping. There hidden in the pages, was an image of a group of hives on the roof of a New York building. If it were possible in New York it would be possible in London.
From the initial hives in Bermondsey Steve Benbow has sited hives in many city areas, including on the rooftop of the Tate and Fortnum and Masons, for whom he makes their own label honey which I must say is delicious.
I spent a day in Shropshire with Steve Benbow looking around the hives he has there. The bees were quiet as it was cold and winter. Steve was feeding the bees fondant from the baker. When it gets to very low temperatures one does not feed the bees syrup as it freezes inside them. Fondant contains the energy without the water content…..We had lunch from a picnic basket and visited his friend, Dave , a gamekeeper on the local estate. There we were both given warm pheasants, shot an hour earlier, to take home.
I watched Steve in his workshop (that he shares with a toad), heat wires on the combs and gently press recycled bees wax onto them. This encourages the bees to build onto it. I saw the large shed where the honey boxes were stored and was given countless things to bring back to the studio, Queen cells, dead bees, old combs and was shown the variation is sizes of the worker cells to the drone cells.
I used Steve Benbow, his knowledge and his collection of bee inspired objects as the subject matter for this piece. I surrounded myself with his books and honeycombs. The studio has had a delicious smell of honey for the last two months. Lastly and most importantly, the central image of the piece depicts Steve Benbow’s grand parents. They were pig farmers in Shropshire. Steve came across this photograph a time after he himself had started bee keeping. He had never consciously seen it before and he treasures it. The beekeeping was obviously in his blood and his destiny.
1987–1988 Withens Lane College, Foundation Course
1988–1992 Brighton University, BA Hons Fashion Textiles with Business Studies.
1994-present Many lectures at Universities including LCP, Chelsea School of Art, Central St, Martins and Birmingham
2003 Residency, The Green School, Birmingham
2003 Residency, Saltley School, Birmingham
Selected Recent Exhibitions
2010 Quilts, Victoria and Albert Museum London
2008 Collect. Victoria & Albert Museum London. Represented by Contemporary Applied Arts.
2007 Bespoke, Flow Gallery, London
2007 Looking Back, Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool
Tracing History, Jagged Art, Marylebone, London
Focus, Contemporary Applied Arts, London
2006-2007 Making Words, Bilston Craft Gallery, Wolverhampton
2005 21st Century Textiles, Shire Hall Gallery, Stafford
Something Borrowed, Contemporary Applied Arts.
2004 Art on Grass, Sussex
2003 Art for Christmas, The Fine Art Society.
Selected Public Commissions
2008 A History of St Thomas’ Hospital, a large scale work created for a main public corridorl
2007 Large artwork based on Shakespeare’s tragedies, commissioned by Icart for Caribbean Cruise Lines
2006 5 Large Framed works commissioned by Guys & St Thomas’ Hospital, London
2004-2005 3 Panels commissioned by Elstone Hays Associates for Cunard Cruise Ships
2002-2003 Portraits commissioned by Royal Caribbean Lines & London Contemporary Art
Telegraph Magazine 27th Feb
2008 London Evening Standard, Homes and Property
Leva Bo, A Dutch Magazine
The Independent Magazine, (Saturday)
Source Magazine, (Feature)
2005 Embroidery Magazine
Financial Times – How to spend it
Elle Deco, Germany
2004 You Magazine, Mail on Sunday
2003 Crafts Magazine
Birmingham Evening Mail
House & Garden Magazine
Ideal Home Magazine
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