Heartbroken Artist Makes Skateboard Exhibit as Exercise in Gratitude and Charity
That’s exactly what Ben Gregor had in mind when he created his first solo art exhibit, “Humble & Epic.”
It’s simple on the surface: over 50 skate decks laser etched with names, mounted on a wall next to a placard that tells Ben’s story about that person. Each of these people – including colleagues, celebrities, legends, good friends, family members, even his dog – have supported him through hard times in his life, but Gregor likes to say they “sponsored” him. And due to life-unraveling events that took place a few years ago, he became inspired to return the favor.
Best known for the British kid’s comedy “All Stars,” Gregor was building up a successful career in European film & television director. His personal life was going pretty well, too. He had been living with his partner for nine years, but the two suddenly split, and Gregor was left alone with a lot of shock, misery and time to introspect.
It was a time period in which he could have sunk into bitterness. But he decided to take action instead. He says, “You can come out of [un]happiness in different ways — sometimes you need to brood and be on your own. But sometimes you need to say, “F*** it,’ and make something great out of it.”
As Gregor counted all the ways his life had gone wrong, he also started to take a tally of the ways his life had gone right – thanks in large part to the many, many people who had been there for him in the past, either physically or as sources of inspiration. It’s a wide-ranging list, including colleagues like Sigourney Weaver and Spike Jonze, as well as heroes like Evel Knievel. And yes, the woman who broke his heart got a board in her honor as well.
Gregor had been a lifelong lover of skateboards and skate culture, and alone in his new flat, surrounded by new furniture and the smell of fresh wood, he had an epiphany: “I want to sponsor back the people who’ve sponsored me in my life.” And the result was all the boards of Humble & Epic, a true exercise in gratitude.
And the exercise of that gratitude turned out to generate even more for him to be grateful for. With the support (and outright generosity) of his friends, including Archie Holloway and Alice Herrick (both of whom were honored with decks in the show) Gregor was able to manufacture the custom pieces and book a show at London’s famed Herrick Gallery.
The exhibit was an immediate hit, filling opening reception with stars, art lovers and people moved by the story, alike. And now Gregor is taking the message State-side. Starting August 6, Humble & Epic will be on view at Project Gallery in downtown Los Angeles.
The show is not only about “sponsoring” the heroes that have impacted Gregor’s life. A portion of the proceeds from the exhibit will benefit Skateistan, a non-profit based in the Middle East that empowers girls living under Sharia law not only with the opportunity to practice a sport, but to further their education. Gregor explains, “Under Sharia law (the Islamic legal system), girls aren’t allowed to ride bikes or do much at all. But through a loophole, they’re allowed to skateboard because it’s seen as a toy. Skateboarding is so accessible. As long as you have a board, you can do it anywhere.”
In exchange for skateboard lessons and access to the sport, Skateistan students are required to attend – and excel in – academic classes. Most of the kids the organization works with are dropouts, so the fact that the organization is getting them back in school is a testament to what a strong motivator skateboarding is. And that’s just talking about the efforts in Afghanistan. The organization also has programs in South Africa and Cambodia. Around the globe, they change the lives of over 1,200 kids each week.