In the Studio | David Renshaw Prepares for 'The Sky is Not the Limit' Exhibition

08 August 2014

David Renshaw is returning to Gallery Rouge Harpenden for his only exhibition in the country this year. Gallerist Katia Hickmer catches up with the artist ahead of the unveiling on September 20.

Type 'landscape artists' into Google and you'll be immediately presented with the masterpieces created by a multitude of enduring names in art history; Monet, Constable, Turner.  There is a great weight when entering this field yet David Renshaw established a confident, accomplished and fresh perspective when he entered the profession almost a decade ago.   As a self-taught artist, he admits that it was daunting to enter into such an esteemed genre. It didn't show.

Four years have passed since I first met Renshaw as he attended his inaugural solo exhibition at Gallery Rouge. A promising emerging painter, the event showcased his remarkable talent and compelled a national audience to sit up and pay attention.  The man himself left a lasting impression on those who met him that day; a soft accent betrayed his northern roots and a friendly demeanour disarmed those who might suspect an artist of displaying stereotypical 'diva-ish' tendencies.  After the melee had subsided, paintings grasped tightly in the arms of collectors returning home, Renshaw reflected on the contrast of his day to day life to his first experience in exhibition.  "I'm really very traditional", he confessed, "I'm a painter…that's what I do". 

Often a solitary existence with long hours of dedicated silence (though audio books keep him company), Renshaw illustrated his point by recalling the masters of old who painted in winter by candlelight, crouched over their boards. Since then, I have held an image of the artist conjuring his exquisite vistas in near darkness, waiting to be delivered to the bright lights and white walls of the gallery space in the 21st Century.  

When I arrive at Renshaw's studio in Southport to discuss his forthcoming exhibition 'The Sky is Not the Limit', I am greeted with a smile and very large windows capturing the full, intense glare of the late July sun.  Naturally, there isn't a candle in sight - health and safety regulations see to that – and I am left with the understanding that the artist reveres the dedication and commitment of the painters through the ages, to keep painting even when their eyes fail and their backs ache. Indeed adorning the walls is the tweaked war time adage, 'Keep Calm and Paint On.' The unintentional reference to history elegantly summarises Renshaw's approach to his work; traditional, honest, authentic values crafted into a captivating, contemporary blend of colour and story.

Today Renshaw has quite a different problem than candlelight versus electricity on hishands with the blistering heat warming the studio to temperatures well above comfort.  The artist however is in good spirits; he moved into the space only 18 months ago and is still luxuriating in it.  Boards are leant carefully against the wall and on work benches in various stages of undress; primed, under-painted and partially detailed. The artist demonstrates that he paints in oils from back to front, mixing just seven colours primarily to start with the skies – the foundation of every completed work.  It is this heavenly aspect of his work to which the exhibition owes its name. 

The flurry of activity is in aid of the approaching exhibition date; Saturday 20th September will celebrate the culmination of months of preparation and perseverance to assemble a collection of original paintings which will expose the breadth of Renshaw's themes.  As the only dedicated show of his work in the country this year, the artist has chosen this event to reveal a new chapter in the story dedicated to Doris and Ted, the protagonists of the Northern Romance series which have captivated an ever-growing audience. 

The decision echoes his debut exposition at the Hertfordshire based gallery in 2010, during which collectors first caught sight of the star crossed lovers.  Little did Renshaw expect the overwhelming reaction to these five paintings, inspired by his desire to introduce emotional narratives to his work.  The catalyst was his family, three generations of romantic and parental love stories. The unconditional commitment of Renshaw's grandmother Peggy to her husband Lawrence even after his premature passing in his early forties left a lasting impression on the artist as a youth. 

"I wanted to represent the idea of real romance and genuine love", though the artist is keen to make clear that there is a reality to his positive message.  Dark skies, precarious cliffs or crashing waves feature to temper the sentiment and prevent the series from representing the unattainable.

Renshaw's eyes light up as soon as he mentions his wife Claire, whom he has been with since the tender age of 16.  In a relationship of twenty four years, married for twenty one, the pair had children young.  Daughter Alison has recently turned 22, with son Max just 18.  Max makes an appearance whilst I am there and it is clear that immediately Renshaw has taken his artist hat off and put his father hat on.  The two talk about directions to an unknown destination, before Max makes a hasty exit fearing he is late. Renshaw checks his phone periodically thereafter, pausing between brushstrokes.

The family frequently travel together, with Renshaw plotting how to softly negotiate his agenda to scale mountains, visit lakesides and rise at dawn in the name of inspiring his art.  His landscapes subtly question the viewer; is the patch of sunlight streaming through the clouds the storm passing to leave a perfect twilight or is it the last glow before the squall?

Collectors have been charmed, dazzled and genuinely moved by the original paintings he produces. Renshaw admits, "I'm conscious I've been asked to do limited editions as well and though I'm not interested in producing prints I want to give collectors the opportunity to acquire something a little bit different." I learn that a single limited edition work will be exclusively available at the exhibition, and a 'Southern Romance' may be on the horizon. 

Having worked as a professional artist for a decade and recently celebrating his fortieth birthday last November, I ask him about his ambitions; what would he like to achieve next? He smiles at me conspiratorially and replies, "the sky is not the limit'.