Rachel Fenner ARCA
22 January – 5 March 2022
Rachel Fenner is a painter, sculptor and environmental designer. Born in Scarborough Yorkshire, she graduated from the Royal College of art (A.R.C.A.) in 1966 with a double first, under the guidance of Iris Murdoch who was Rachel’s academic thesis supervisor and philosophy teacher. Their friendship lasted and the Kingston University archive holds the letters and cards Iris wrote to Rachel over many years.
Rachel has exhibited widely in London and throughout the UK. Since being appointed City Artist for Portsmouth in 1980, she worked as a pioneering Environmental Sculptor with a ‘hands on’ approach to making sculpture for the built environment. Throughout the 80s and 90s she worked prolifically making public art all around Britain. Her strong and highly creative influence helped to establish environmental sculpture as a recognised discipline. She also makes smaller domestic-scale sculpture, largely constructed in wood.
Simultaneously she established herself as a highly respected landscape painter. Her paintings follow the Modernist tradition of English Romantic Abstraction and has often been connected by critics to that of Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland. Largely inspired by the coastal landscapes of Pembrokeshire and Dorset, her work expresses her passion for nature, particularly the processes of growth, decay and regeneration which are so essential to life. She has regularly exhibited her paintings in London since 1992.
Rachel Fenner painted most of the paintings in this exhibition after a release from lockdown in the summer of 2020, when she was finally able to visit ancient woodlands and the rocky coastlines of West Dorset and Pembrokeshire. A number of the works in this show are inspired by a visit to one of rare areas of original British woodland, Ty-canol in Pembrokeshire. These unspoilt areas are active seed banks for a multitude of wild plants and fungi, as well as a refuge for endangered insects, birds and wild animals. When Rachel visited it was, she says, ‘intense, like a revelation. I felt surrounded by personalities who were interacting with each other. I thought, I love this place. These paintings poured out in the following weeks.’
Rachel Fenner’s paintings are in gouache on paper framed with oak or ash. Please get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org or t: 01308 459511 with any enquiries. We are happy to sell paintings online and ship them to you.
“Rachel Fenner makes paintings which make one wonder if she has just this instant invented abstraction, all by herself. Like much English abstraction, hers seems to be landscape-based. That is to say, one can suspect that one is seeing a transmogrified cornfield, branches against the moon, cracks in the ice and such, without ever being able to pin down these associations unequivocally. But what is important is that they exist, and give Fenner’s gouaches a grandly romantic, faintly melancholy quality somewhere in the same emotional area as late Paul Nash.” – John Russell Taylor
“The paintings … stand firmly in the tradition of modern British neo-romanticism, with their visual echoes of Paul Nash’s pastoral surrealism, or the vigorous and dramatic Welsh landscapes of Graham Sutherland. But she remains quite herself for all that.”- William Packer
“These paintings are so fresh that they seem almost alive.” – Fenella Crichton
Born in Yorkshire, Rachel Fenner was the daughter of a watch-maker who died when she was ten years old. She used to watch him work and he would take her to earthworks in Yorkshire and around Salisbury Plain. Rachel loves maths, geometry, music and philosophy. She studied art at Wimbledon College of Art, graduating with a double first in painting and sculpture. When she got into the Royal College of Art she says it was like winning the lottery. There she found Iris Murdoch who taught her philosophy. The correspondence two of them maintained until 1993 is held in the archive of Kingston University.
In 1979 she won an Arts Council fellowship to work with Portsmouth City Council to develop ‘Art as Environment’ exploring the parameters of environmental art, This project subsequently led to a large number of ground-breaking projects in which she collaborated with public bodies to produce works that were not simply integral to public spaces but were those spaces. Her public spaces have included earthworks, carvings, cast bronze, mosaic paving, brickwork, gates, seating, railings and trellises and have also featured innovative use of water and lighting. Many of the projects have been developed as ‘markers’ of former archaeological sites within the built environment.
At the same time, she continued to paint wonderful abstracted landscapes conveying dynamic energy through patterns and abstracted forms.
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