Last month, the casual visitor to St. Leonards-on-Sea may have been confronted by the curious sight of a 2.5 metre oil painting being lowered from the fourth floor of an artist’s studio in Mercatoria by heavy duty ropes. The work was beginning the final stage of its journey to the new Marco Pierre White restaurant, Wheeler’s in London’s Threadneedle Street for which it had been commissioned.
The studio in question was that of acclaimed painter Alan Rankle, which has been the centre of a remarkable surge of activity recently.
On that very same day (4 March), an installation of Rankle’s paintings commenced a six month run at the remarkable House of St. Barnabas, an elegant Soho member’s club situated in an 18th century Georgian mansion. The House of St Barnabas is a charity that has provided a place of refuge and support for those affected by homelessness in London’s Soho since 1846. Rankle’s show is part of an exhibition ‘The Collective’ curated by Katie Heller, which features art throughout the building.
A commonly overseen characteristic of Alan’s work when published online is how substantial they are in size. Having once described painting as “unique in the sense that the intent of the mind comes directly through the gesture of the hand” I prompted the artist for insight into the public’s response to his work and the overlooked intimacy in large scale expression.
Alan, tell us a little about the inspiration behind ‘To a Hidden Place’, which is currently being held at The House of St Barnabas?
The paintings in this exhibition are part of an ongoing series called ‘Running From the House’ and are essentially about our fast changing relationship with the natural world. I’m interested in the language of Landscape Art and the ways in which styles in art evolve and precipitate changes in the way we perceive our environment.
An inspiration is a work by Alighiero Boetti called ‘For the Collective Psyche of Nature’ which I first came across in my twenties and still seems relevant to me today.
I’m referencing different historical ways of painting and these latest works are informed by sampling photographs and making montages taken from diverse sources; random observations, Classical and Baroque paintings and found objects.
I try to create new and unexpected narratives that unfold other ways of seeing and allow a sense of mystery and the unknown to become as important as the need of our society to have everything explained.
The setting of a members club is very different to that of a gallery. How do you think your work will be received by the guests of The House of St Barnabas?
I like the idea of presenting my work in a site-specific context and The House of St. Barnabas as well as being a member’s club is also an extraordinarily beautiful Georgian building. The paintings were specially made to fit into the architecture of the main staircase and the drawing room.
I’ve had an enthusiastic response from the members. The audience at The House of St. Barnabas is well informed and accustomed to seeing some of the best innovative contemporary art, chosen by the curator Katie Heller. There are works by Cathy de Monchaux, Gilbert & George, Jeremy Deller, Mark Titchner, Chris Levine, Gordon Cheung, Rebecca Stevenson and The Chapman Brothers among others placed throughout the building.
I find showing there better in every way than in a standard commercial gallery, which is after all only a shop with art on the shelves.
I saw the image of the 2.5 metre oil painting being lowered from the fourth floor of your art studio! You’ve never been known to shy away from a large canvas. Are the dimensions of your work significant to how much you feel you need to express or are you just more comfortable working on a larger scale?
The large-scale paintings tend to be created for an existing place and have a particular impact within the architecture. The painting you’re referring to while being part of the whole exhibition was specially commissioned and is sited at the new Marco Pierre White restaurant at Threadneedle Street.
It’s more involved to make the same kind of expressive gesture on these works as in the smaller paintings so they tend to be more designed. There’s significance in how the work is used so yes there is a difference in how I approach them. The ideal is to create large works, which are as revealing and in a sense as intimate as the studies.
How do you spend your time when you are not painting or creating?
Would I be the only artist to say there isn’t any distinction.. walking, reading, conversations, traveling.. it’s all part of the work..
I have to say, on the coast at St. Leonards-on-Sea there are an unusual number of artists, writers, musicians and film-makers and I tend to hang out with the people I’m working with on various projects so the studio life spills over into the social whirl.. in Copenhagen where my partner Patricia is based things are slightly more structured. We plan ahead and try to get out to exhibitions especially at the amazing Louisiana which is a contemporary art museum in the woods with it’s own private beach.
What’s next for the art of Alan Rankle? Can you reveal something as an exclusive to the AfterNyne community?
A recent commission was to install seven paintings in a villa on a new island resort, Sacca Sessola in the Venice Laguna created by the architect Matteo Thun and the whole project is having a grand launch event in June so we’re working towards this as well as making a book about the paintings and a temporary exhibition of paintings showing another side to the city to run concurrently thoughout the biennale. A related exhibition will be held at Federico Rui Arte Contemporanea in Milan
Back in the studio I’m starting to work with the artist Rebecca Youssefi on a music video for a track from a new album by Steve Finnerty who’s taken time out from playing with Alabama 3 to write a suite of songs, which are compelling and politically relevant.