Practising Artist and Curator
January 19, 2021
Creative and Critical Studies
Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)
Bachelor of Fine Arts, UBC Okanagan
“The fine arts program at UBCO was exactly what I wanted in an art school experience.”
AS A CHILD, BEN ARCEGA USED TO VACATION with his family in the Okanagan, so it was always full of great memories. But many years later, when his sister began her post-secondary studies at UBC Okanagan, he knew it was the place for him to live and study. Encouraged by his high school art teacher, Arcega applied to UBCO’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program and started immediately after graduating from high school in 2011.
“I felt like I had the ‘idealized’ university experience by living in residence and meeting so many people on campus,” Arcega says. “I loved how our first year was standardized and we could try each studio area. The introductory level classes were great, and I was studying exactly what I wanted to.”
He adds: “Coming to UBCO was exactly what I wanted in an art school experience.”
But after a few years of studying, Arcega admits he lost his way. “I was caught up in the social life of university, so I decided to take a break to re-centre and re-focus in order to finish my degree.”
To this day, Arcega stands by his decision. After a semester away, he was more dedicated to creating a body of work when he returned.
“That time away taught me a lot about myself and how quickly I could get thrown off track. It was important for me to get into the right mindset so I could head into my final year and produce quality work for my grad year.”
Arcega has always leaned towards painting and drawing, despite learning a variety of traditional and new media in his foundational courses.
“When I find a photo, image or subject I’m drawn to, I re-create that as a painting. In my grad year, I did a number of paintings of my friends and people who are important to me.”
The BFA program not only gave Arcega the time and guidance to develop his skills as a painter and illustrator, but also the confidence to take on freelance work and new clients.
“It allowed me to develop a strong portfolio of work that I’m proud of. And it connected me with many other talented artists who I remain in contact with.”
Now, just a few years after graduating, Arcega creates large-scale paintings and mural work throughout the Okanagan, describing his art practice as “a mix of freelance commissions, illustrations, custom murals and design.”
BUILDING A COMMUNITY
Staying in the Okanagan after completing his degree has allowed Arcega to establish himself as an emerging artist in the local community. He’s passionate about building a sense of community with other artists and creative people in the region, and points to events like the Fireside Festival — an Okanagan music series that features local artists — as an important contributor to his current success.
“The Fireside Festival has been a huge platform for me to connect with others and showcase my work.”
Arcega was the first visual artist to be part of the festival in 2016, where he did a painting live while on stage with a band performing. He has continued to work with the festival for four years running.
“Painting on stage in front of people was a bit daunting at first, but it helped me gain confidence and I enjoy doing it,” Arcega explains, adding that being part of the Fireside Festival was the start of community building for him.
“I feel lucky to have worked with the people I have, to be part of this community and to be able to create.”
Right after graduation, Arcega had the opportunity to present his designs for a mural outside one of the newest breweries in Kelowna, Kettle River Brewery. The mural is an illustrative scene of two figures enjoying a beer and looking worry-free, surrounded by fish and bubbles under water.
“With this painting, my hope was that it would be a happy backdrop signifying the brewery as a place to enjoy a pint and some good company.”
Arcega notes that the connection with Kettle River Brewery was his first real opportunity to bring his art into the community, in a new establishment in downtown Kelowna’s north end.
Before painting the mural, he was the first visual artist who had work on the walls in the brewery. That also led to a few art sales and exposure in the community.
“I was thrilled to bring my work to a new audience and be responsible for painting a wall that size at a brand new business.”
Since that first mural, Arcega has been approached by both BNA and Vice & Virtue to do some work for them. The local breweries are a great network of businesses that promote young and emerging artists in the community.
Chris Dedinsky, one of the owners of Kettle River Brewery, notes that they choose to work with local artists because it’s important to have a space that shares art created by people within the community.
“There is a ton of great talent in Kelowna that just needs space to be seen. We’ve been very fortunate to show some fabulous work in many different mediums,” he adds. “Being able to provide a space for working artists is something we as business owners find a great amount of satisfaction in.”
As for Arcega, he continues to be as busy as ever, but notes that it’s important for him to take the opportunities that feel right and are exciting. In 2019 and 2020 he completed three different murals, including one at Bright Jenny Coffee. He has also illustrated skateboards for Freeride Board Shop, created clothing designs for Harrison Haines clothing, and has also worked on some hand-painted denim jackets for Grey Harts Denim.
“After seeing my work at Kettle River and BNA, the owner of Grey Harts Denim reached out and wanted me to do an interior mural for the store, which I completed in January 2020. We wanted to continue working together, so we came up with the idea of painting vintage denim jackets.”
Arcega adds that the interconnected nature of small businesses in Kelowna has helped others find out about his work, which he loves because of how he’s able to help businesses brand themselves.
“I feel accomplished in my art practice, in creating murals and other commission work, and I feel proud to work with the local companies I have.”
And while the subject matter may change from project to project, Arcega’s distinctive style and passion for community engagement always comes through.