Contemporary Art, Furniture & Craft Gallery · Licensed Café

Rachel Fenner ARCA

Saturday 30 January – Sunday 14 March 2021

Rachel Fenner ARCA painted most of the paintings in this exhibition after a release from lockdown last summer, when she was finally able to visit ancient woodlands and the coast. Rachel is an established environmental sculptor and landscape painter. Throughout the 80s and 90s she worked prolifically making public art all around Britain. You could say that Rachel Fenner invented environmental sculpture. At the very least she was a strong and highly creative influence. At the same time she has always been well respected as a painter. Her paintings take up the English Romantic tradition of Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland and are mainly inspired by the coasts 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 on Earth.

Six of the works in this show are inspired by the ancient original woodland Ty-canol in Pembrokeshire. Soon after lockdown was lifted last summer, Rachel and her son Bevis hiked out to find Ty-canol. Very little of Britain’s original ancient woodland survives, but this comes across in these paintings as the powerful and precious resource it is. 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.’

The exhibition also includes Rachel Fenner’s ‘grids’, very beautiful paintings like patterns that she makes in gouache and pencil on squared paper.

Rachel Fenner’s paintings are in gouache on paper framed with oak or ash. We also hold stock of Rachel’s work as Giclée prints in the browser at the gallery priced from £190. Please get in touch on or t: 01308 459511 with any enquiries. We are happy to sell paintings online and ship them to you.

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.

These paintings are so fresh that they seem almost alive.


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.


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.