Chris Wainwright became Dean of Art at Central Saint Martins in 1997, leading the school through radical changes, creating an international profile for research through new initiative such as Double Agents and Afterall. He spent ten years at the College before joining Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon in 2007 where he worked until he retired in 2016 to take up the post of UAL Chair of Fine Art.
Following his recent passing, colleagues reflect on the ten years he spent at the College and the personal memories of working with this charismatic, energetic and passionate man.
Anne Tallentire, Professor Emeritus, Central Saint Martins, UAL
Working at Central Saint Martins as Dean of Fine Art was a good fit for Chris, coming as he did with an experimental art practice of his own. He respected the work of his colleagues, was generous with his time and support and encouraged creative risk. Always open to ideas – as long as the argument was sound – he created space for research with projects such as Afterall, Double Agents, Visual Cultures and countless individual staff initiatives.
Through his own practice, his concern for the environment was brilliantly articulated using light, colour and time as medium and subject. It is so desperately sad that now when his life was flourishing after so many years working on behalf of others, he should be lost to us.
Pete Brooks, Course Director MA Scenography/Performance Design and Practice 1999-2015
In 2008, Chris asked me to go to Tokyo with him, Anne Tellentire and a small group of UAL students to take part in a project run by Tokyo Wondersite. The whole experience was full on “Lost in Translation” weird, not least because we were all completely jet-lagged for the whole time, but two memories of that trip stand out.
One was being persuaded by Chris that despite our sleep deprivation we should all go and eat sushi with assorted Yakuza in Tokyo fish market at 4am in what looked like the back room of an abattoir, but which he insisted was the best time to eat in the best sushi bar in Japan (quite possibly true). The second was his reaction to our each being handed, totally unexpectedly, envelopes containing a large amount of yen in lieu of per diems. Chris’ immediate response was to suggest we use this windfall to subsidise meals for the student group who were not being similarly supported.
I enjoyed having Chris as my Dean but I will remember him more as someone always ready to experience what the world had to offer, intellectually and sensorially and also as a kind, thoughtful and generous man who was genuinely concerned for the well being of his friends, colleagues and especially the students.
Susan Trangmar, Reader in Fine Art, Central Saint Martins
He was a fixer. When it came down to it, it he was happiest being down on his knees with a hammer, or drill or pencil, helping whatever needed to be done. And this is how I will remember him, as a very practical man, an artist.
Alex Lumley, Associate Dean of Academic Support, UAL
Chris was hugely supportive of all creativity, unprejudiced across the arts, design, writing and more. A few years later when I had moved to CSM (becoming Associate Dean of the School of Art) I really noticed his respect for everyone’s practice – it didn’t matter if you were a technician, administrator, manager or academic.
Chris took a holistic view: the School of Art was a community of practice and he commanded respect no matter how heated the debates and upheavals were across Fine Art, Performance Design, Foundation, Photography and Glass! He had a monumental kind of presence and charisma, and some strong principles – he defended freedom of expression and lived out his views in everyday ways with students, whom he respected and believed in.
While Chris was a serious promoter of the value of fine art and was often out leading from the front as an international practitioner and agent, he could also be the pragmatic boss, even if via the mobile from Iceland or China – and always good fun. Avoiding some boring paperwork, I loved how he’d sheepishly pop in my office suggesting a walk – off to a Chinese place he liked somewhere round several corners in Soho, or just next door for sausages and mash, and so we’d chat about the dynamics of our courses, uncertainty, the river, the north…
Professor Jane Rapley, Head of Central Saint Martins 2006-2012
Chris joined the College in 1997 as Dean of Art following his good friend and previous colleague Rod Bugg. The move was a watershed in his life personally and professionally and during his tenure there were significant changes to the art and performance courses and considerable expansion of research in art.
Fervent and very articulate about art education worldwide he delighted in his role at ELIA that began while at the College. There he used his experience to support and encourage debate across the worldwide community of artists and designers.
Chris was our ‘Big Fella’, good fun, larger than life, passionate about football and always out and about networking and seeking opportunities for the School, its staff and students.
Charles Esche and Mark Lewis, Founders and Directors, Afterall
More than anyone else, Chris was responsible for making Afterall a reality. We went to him with a raw idea and a bunch of enthusiasm, he supported our proposal all the way and always stood behind the organisation as it developed and grew. Afterall will always be indebted to him and we honour his memory. Many of us in the art world are very grateful to Chris for his invaluable work, but he meant something special to Afterall.
We had hoped to work with him more in the future as he had time to work on his own projects following his retirement, but we will remember his life and work with great fondness.
Read Chelsea College of Art’s tribute to Chris here.