x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Artists in the Studio: Rebecca Rendell

We drop by Rebecca Rendell's workspace to hear about the work she's created and the success she's enjoyed since arriving in the UAE four years ago.

Rebecca Rendell's work focuses heavily on found and natural objects. Antonie Robertson / The National
Rebecca Rendell's work focuses heavily on found and natural objects. Antonie Robertson / The National

Rebecca Rendell has honed an intuitive sense for finding objects with visual tactility. The artist scours the beaches of Ras Al Khaimah for shells, finger-shaped stones in the sand and the day-to-day debris of life.

With these, she then creates strikingly precise installations on gallery walls, carefully measured and geometric in their accuracy. The effect is almost mural-like and a collage of material that has passed through several hands and shores before it reaches the exhibition space.


"I've probably got about 100 sea urchin shells that I'm planning on creating a piece with at the moment," says Rendell. "All of these have been found while kayaking. A lot of what I do is about the collecting process. I horde so much and collect things that might not get used for months."

The artist suggests that these spiny spirals could be threaded together to create a circular formation for a larger work. Her studio abounds with trays of finds from around RAK.

However, a recent residency at Dubai's thejamjar space tapped into an interest she'd been waiting for a long time to explore. Rendell worked to create seemingly gravity-defying sculptures that were held in balance by using strings at tension.

"That was the perfect opportunity to explore those ideas, but the two different pathways of my work don't seem to be able to meet yet," she explains. "Now that's out of my system, I'm straight back into the kind of work I was doing for my last solo show [The Continuous Cycle at Tashkeel, last January]. Perhaps that's how I'll work - bouncing back and forth between those two pathways."

Working week

Rendell says that one of the hardest parts of being a full-time artist here is keeping yourself working. "My routine at the moment is to get up at 6am and swim a kilometre in the sea. That's when I do my thinking and work out what I'm going to do that day. For me, I really need variety, so I tend to have two days in Dubai working at Tashkeel, a studio hub in Nad Al Sheba."

RAK has a small community of designers and jewellery-makers, and Rendell explains that many are attracted by a quietness that allows them to focus. "That's what I grew up with in South Wales. But I need the city and to go there at least once a week. There are no galleries in Ras Al Khaimah and so getting work into galleries can be a challenge.

"People keep telling me to open a gallery here, but I'm not ready to commit to that. I'd make no work."


Attempting to bring out the life contained within discarded objects and environments is a thread running through a lot of what Rendell does. "I just finished a piece last week working with butterflies," she explains. "Last year, I found a lot of butterflies out in the desert; there's a season each year when they do their thing and die off."

Engaging with RAK's environment continues to be a vital influence: "My husband and I spend a lot of time outdoors. We go kayaking and all that feeds into my work."

Getting seen

"I would say that I've best funded all my work in the past four years with teaching, although it can be quite sporadic. You have to juggle a lot and be prepared take on a strange commission that you might not usually do. I've even been known to do face painting parties for kids."

Before coming to RAK, Rendell had a steady job as the assistant to an established British artist and was creating her work on the side. "When I was considering moving to the UAE, I met an artist who had worked here about 10 years ago. They told me that I shouldn't go and that I wouldn't have a career because there's no art scene. But I arrived and found the complete opposite."

In addition to a solo show in Dubai and regular participation in group shows, the UAE has been a good place for Rendell to get noticed internationally and she currently has work in an exhibition in Melbourne, Australia.

The results of a workshop run by Rebecca Rendell at Tashkeel are currently part of the Made in Tashkeel exhibition, which continues until August 30 at the Nad Al Sheba gallery/studio hub, www.tashkeel.org.

For more information on Rendell's work, visit www.rebeccarendell.com.

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