Creativity, collaboration and artistic freedom are alive, well and thriving at Wimbledon Art Studios. Established in 1992, this bespoke studio complex houses and provides affordable spaces for over 290 artists, makers and designers. In this first in a series of three features we speak to painter Alex Rennie about why this community is important to him and about his ongoing evolving work.
“I’ve been here 11 years now in this building and in this room and it’s undergone many changes which includes another purpose – built studio complex. What’s great about having the space that I do here is that there are so many ways that artists can support each other from transporting work to recommending them to galleries, giving crits, clubbing together to run your own exhibition (that happens a lot at Wimbledon) and essentially that’s greater than the sum of its parts,” Alex says. “I worked on my own for a few years in my mum’s house in a little room after uni to get some money together – it became a bit isolating and I got stuck in my own head. Moving to the Studio, while it was a stretch financially at the time, was the best thing I’ve done – immediately my mind opened up to so many possibilities. The Wimbledon Art Fair showcases the work of 150 of London’s artists and makers and is great because you can sell directly to the public and meet the people who will be living with your work – which is a the greatest compliment. It also allows you to experiment and try out things on the public especially kids who can be very forthright with their opinions good and bad and you never know who will walk through the door. Everyone opens their doors and it’s a great opportunity to see what your neighbours are up to.”
Alex’s career has taken him from a being successful portrait artist (showing in the National Portrait Gallery ,2005); through to dramatic rendering of London’s urban landscapes. “I used to pound the streets of London quite a lot – the whole city very much felt like my home and I’ve lived all over it so I felt a real sense of belonging. The history of the place is still intact, but I like the glass and the steel up against the grimy aged patina of London.
“I travelled from Deptford to the studio every day and I was passing through the Shard building site every day so I was able to document the changes within my paintings. I was interested in how this change is ongoing, even when something has been built, there are a set of cranes elsewhere and the whole scene is constantly evolving.” This body of work lead to large pieces depicting construction timbers and building hoardings with vast panoramas of London were the bedrock of Alex’s solo Cork street show with Waterhouse and Dodd in 2012.
After moving out of London, Alex’s view of the city became that of a commuter. It made him think of the city as an organ, rhythmically inhaling and exhaling a huge number of people. He felt that paintings on this theme would be best served by a more abstracted approach and his black and red Totem series culminated in a piece being accepted into the prestigious John Moores Painting Prize exhibition in 2016. Despite considering himself “a London exile” Alex frequently returns to paint the city as the ever changing skyline evolves. “Time and again, my work features lengthening light or dawn light – it’s known as the golden hour, but I think that sometimes you can narrow even that down to the golden ten minutes so sometimes I’m trying to capture that fleeting moment. I looked at Turner’s paintings a lot as I’m interested in his mastery when depicting light and describing weather. “Sketches and photos inform the architecture but I often work from memory to create the glow of the late evening sun; the skudding and billowing clouds; missile like contra trails; the shimmering river and the hot light ricocheting off the buildings lining the Thames.”
Beyond his fascination with his home city, Alex’s practice regularly explores new themes.More recent projects include ‘Cargo’, Alex’s take on the massive container ships that traverse the globe with 90% of everything we consume. Describing these paintings he says ‘‘dramatic seascapes, setting suns and starlit skies are the backdrop for colourful cargo ships and holographic trees in a dystopian world where our desires have outpaced our natural resources’. Alex has recently been invited to exhibit this series of paintings in the shipping town of Antwerp this autumn.
Alex also has a solo show this year. Titled ‘Home from Home’, the exhibition aims to celebrate and support the work of two charities (The Rural refugee network and Children on the edge) who help displaced Syrian families resettle in the UK and educate children forced to flee to desolate refugee camps surrounding the war-torn country. Among the imagery featured in this project are tea cups and sandcastles in order to focus on the proud British tradition of welcoming and assisting those in the greatest need.
He hopes to convince viewers that they can play a small part in helping in one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters since WW2. Alex got involved in this project by chance. “I donated some work to an auction run by an artist who had a relative who had set up a charity at the height of the Syrian crisis around the time the world was shocked by images of Alan Kurdi’s tiny body washed up on the sand.
At the auction, the founder read a devastatingly moving poem by a refugee, I was deeply moved and set up a meeting to see if I could help further. I had no idea it would lead to an exhibition but we have just secured a fantastic gallery who have donated their space for the event. The challenge of the work is that it must reflect the chaotic nature of the situation but also present a positive potential outcome. In such a crisis it’s easy to think it’s all too huge and there’s nothing I can do, however the charities they say it’s the small cumulative things that make a difference. Even just reinforcing that sense of community and welcome makes disorientated and vulnerable families feel psychologically that they’re not outsiders. You get so much back from people who have a safe place and can thrive – they give back to the country in so many different ways financially as well as culturally.”
Alex’s exhibition Home from Home will be held at Frestonian gallery, Holland Park, London on the 24th and 25th of September.
Alex’s ‘Cargo’ series will be on view in the ‘Port of art VIII’ exhibition at Nassau 42 Gallery, Antwerp from September 1st to the November 9th.
See more of Alex’s work HERE
Interview: Amber Beard