Ben Coode-Adams

Ben Coode-Adams is our Chair: He shares a deep love of the Minories with his fellow Victor Batte-Lay Foundation directors. In boyhood it was one of the first places he encountered art and learnt to make etchings in the cellar print studio. And it continued to play a significant role in his artistic career, as an occasional exhibitor but primarily as an expectant and enthralled visitor. This love of the Minories culminated in the 2017 exhibition ‘Between Things’ at the galleries there, which he co-curated with Kaavous Clayton, then director. The exhibition was a love-letter to all the great things about the Minories.

Ben Coode-Adams was born and lives in Essex. He always wanted to be an artist and on leaving school he spent a summer working with the sculptor John Doubleday who remains a mentor and inspiration. He studied Fine Art at The University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh College of Art specializing in sculpture and writing his thesis on Eduardo Paolozzi. He went on to take an MA in Art in Architecture at the University of East London studying under the architect Ron Heron.

Ben’s main area of activity has been the production of large scale sculptures out of forged and fabricated steel for housing associations, local authorities and private clients, with all the negotiations, teamwork, and community engagement that goes with that territory. After a long relationship with the housing association Circle Anglia he completed a series of sculptures for Islington Homes in 2011 and for the Peabody Trust in 2019.

Early projects include very large temporary sculptures for Tobacco Dock and the Wapping Pumping Station, in the then rapidly evolving docklands of London where Ben was also living. At this time he worked on video and TV projects with the Cranberries, Nick Cave, Tony Slattery, and Muriel Grey amongst many others. He designed and built a series of shop interiors for clothing brand I-Ho. In 1989 he secured his first public commission with a Monument to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 for what was then Thurrock Borough Council.

Meanwhile under the mentorship of Ronessa Knock, Ben was developing his skills delivering workshops in schools, including St.Helena’s and it’s feeder primary schools. Outside schools he ran workshops at Colchester Arts Centre, Bury St.Edmunds Art Gallery and the University of Essex amongst others. Ben has always exhibited his own smaller paintings and sculptures, first with a one-person show at Hayletts Gallery on North Hill, Colchester in 1989.

In 1992 with funding from Colchester Borough Council, Essex County Council, the Prince’s Trust and the European Art Fund, to celebrate the signing of the Maastrict Treaty, he organised the residency programme and exhibition ‘Human)(Nature’ in Colchester, with artists from all over Europe, with art work sited in Castle Park, Culver Square, Highwoods Country Park and Essex University. Then in 1993 Ben was chosen by Sally Patrick to represent Colchester at an exhibition in Wetzlar, Germany, Colchester’s twin town.

At the end of Ben’s tenure at Cockpit Arts in 1992 he established the first in a line of artists’ studio enterprises at the Clapton Tram Depot, providing reasonably priced studio space and running a collective vibrant gallery. This morphed into the Horse Workshop on the same site providing workshop space for sculptors and furniture makers which he ran from 1996-2009. Running these spaces included fending off proposals to redevelop the Tram Depot site which Ben led. This involved learning a good deal about planning law, running a press and lobbying campaign and speaking at council meetings.

Ben’s first project with a museum was the redevelopment of Chadkirk Chapel in Stockport, Lancashire on behalf of Stockport Museum Service in 1995, where he was responsible for designing and building the internal fittings, a carved oak choir screen, altar furniture, font railings and a reliquary for this important thirteenth century building.

Ben’s dexterity with narrative and a fierce commitment to engagement with audiences led to a series of projects funded by NESTA (National Endowment for Science Technology & the Arts), the Wellcome Trust, the Arts Council and the Manchester Museum, developing ideas about communicating complicated subtle narratives which turned into a series of artists commissions in Manchester with the Manchester Museum and the Whitworth Art Gallery, under the auspices of his company Artefact Projects set up with Brigid Howarth, formerly with the Crafts Council.

With a Year of the Artist Award he began a series of video and performance projects about exploration, produced with Grizedale Arts, Hastings Museum and the Banff Centre in Canada in collaboration with sociologist Kris Cohen. With Kris, Ben worked on a project with the Department of Computer Science at the University of Manchester on a history of computing told through its archive of objects, funded by NESTA and FACT in Liverpool

In 2008 Ben and his wife, the artist and educator Freddie Robins, moved back to Essex to convert a sixteenth century barn on the family blackcurrant farm, into a home, workshops, gallery and studios. The process was documented in the television programme Grand Designs shown on Channel 4 in 2010.

In 2013 Ben fell ill, unable to produce sculptures, he turned to watercolours which he had exhibited periodically, in Berlin in 2004 and Mainz 2006. In 2008 he was shortlisted for the Jerwood Drawing Prize. In 2016 he was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Watercolour Prize and in 2017 for the Royal Watercolour Society prize which in 2018 he won. This new work led to exhibitions with Wayfarers Gallery and Theodore:Art in Brooklyn, New York in 2014 and Galerie dreiZehn in Berlin in 2016/17. In 2018 Ben exhibited his paintings in Yantai Art Gallery, Shandong Province, China along with fellow VBLF director Simon Carter.

Ben is very committed to loving the local and developing a regional voice against the bland internationalism of contemporary art. To which end he founded the Blackwater Polytechnic with his wife Freddie Robins, dedicated to the promotion of Essex artists. They curate shows here in Essex, and internationally, in 2018 in Odense, Denmark, and at Sluice Exchange, Berlin.