BOKRA: Making Jersey stylish one wall at a time

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You may have caught sight of Ben Robertson (or BOKRA as he's artistically known) scaling the side of a building or two as he brings to life some of St Helier’s less-loved areas. As a graffiti artist he caught our attention through his involvement with the Skipton Art Series, redefining the way the local community interacts with art. His impact was so great that the year he was nominated for one of the prestigious Jersey Style Awards, which recognise those that have contributed to putting Jersey firmly on the map. I caught up with Ben at his studio to talk murals, the Island and why art is suddenly finding itself in the most unexpected places.

 Photo: Holly Smith Photography

Photo: Holly Smith Photography

“I’ve no idea how I ended up nominated, but it’s pretty surreal to be recognised alongside these established creatives like Jason Butler.” Luckily surreal is right up Ben’s street, as an artist that adopts a collage and abstract approach to his artwork and mural projects. Through its first incarnation, the Mural Project looked at how it could revive certain areas of our Island, turning them into spaces of joy and contemplation. “The murals were just such a fantastic way to incorporate what the local community wanted to see on our walls. I literally asked Islanders and tourists what makes them most happy and then brought it all together.”   

 Photo: Holly Smith Photography

Photo: Holly Smith Photography

While Ben wont be painting in the third instalment of the Mural Project for Skipton Open Studios, he is taking on the role of Creative Director. “I realised last year that by taking part I wasn’t able to help the other artists, whether that was advice on paint or holding a ladder. I wanted to be able to better assist them, especially since we have made Part 3 of the project bigger and better.” This year sees ten sites around St Helier allocated to local artists, to use the space as they best see fit. The Project will culminate in two free guided tours, given by Ben, around St Helier on Tuesday 26th and Thursday 28th June. 

Ben remains extremely busy, putting the final touches to his body of work for an exhibition as part of the Skipton Open Studios which will take place at Jason Butler’s studio and planning out further mural projects which will take shape before the end of the year. With a reputation as ‘THE graffiti guy’ I wondered what his preference was to art, getting out and splashing walls or working solo in his studio? “It needs to be a balance of both, I like the variety it brings to my work so I couldn’t pick one over the other. Being in the studio is the harder of the two, coming up with designs can take a week or a month. The easy part is then transferring this onto a wall space.”

 A mock up of the mural due to be painted at Durrell, which can be seen at Le Geyt flats graffiti wall

A mock up of the mural due to be painted at Durrell, which can be seen at Le Geyt flats graffiti wall

As the number of murals popping up round Jersey rises, it marks a change in the way the Island responds to this type of art. “Jersey is much more receptive now, whereas I would often get looks and comments the moment I whipped out a spray paint can. 99% of feedback to the piece at La Columberie was positive and I think the change in attitude is primarily the result of Instagram. We take our example from other countries and we want Jersey to look like a place you’d want to photograph and share.”

In this respect Jersey Style Awards and the Skipton Open Studios share the same common goal, to make more people aware of the breadth of talent that this small Islands holds and the potential we have to become great should we choose to support and develop these sectors. Shining a light on artists such as Ben and through community art involvement we prompt the question of how supported our local artists are, what spaces are available to them to create and show their work and what is the value of art to our society?

For more information on the Mural Project Part 3 or the Skipton Open Studios please click here

To vote for BOKRA as part of Jersey Style Awards click here.