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A tribute to Chris Wainwright

CW Portrait JAN 2015_web
CW Portrait JAN 2015_web

Written by
Sarah McLean
Published date
07 September 2017

It is with great sadness that we received the news of the sudden death of Professor Chris Wainwright this week. The former Pro Vice-Chancellor and Head of Colleges at Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon and internationally celebrated artist, curator and educator died whilst tackling the Yorkshire 3 Peaks challenge with members of his family.

Chris joined UAL in 1997 as Dean of Fine Art at Central Saint Martins. He spent ten years at CSM before joining Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon in 2007 where he worked until he stepped down in 2016 to take up the post of UAL Chair of Fine Art. He will be greatly missed by all of those who worked with him over the years and our thoughts are with his family and friends.

Image from We Are All Stars by Chris Wainwright resulting from collaborations with musician, director and composer Cathy Milliken.

Image from We Are All Stars by Chris Wainwright resulting from collaborations with musician, director and composer Cathy Milliken.

Alongside his work for UAL, Chris was a member of The Tate Britain Council, a member of the Board of Directors of the Today Art Museum, Beijing, Past President of the European League of Institutes of the Arts (ELIA) and Chair of the Board of Trustees of Cape Farewell, an artist run organisation that promotes a cultural response to climate change.

His artistic practice encompassed environmental photography, performance and installation and often examined the cause and effect relationship between urban and depopulated spaces and the way light is deployed as a form of illumination, communication, invasion and pollution.

He worked tirelessly to address pressing issues of climate change and how we as humans through our lifestyles and increasing demands for energy are leaving a potentially catastrophic legacy for our future generations, work which sometimes took him to distant destinations such as Greenland and Svalbard where he produced work in extreme weather conditions. In recent years he travelled internationally with UAL students and colleagues to countries such as China, Japan, Taiwan where he collaborated with other institutions and alumni on research and artistic work that explored how these issues could be addressed world-wide.

In January this year he curated and exhibited in the group show What Has To Be Done at the Today Art Museum, Beijing, China. This art, environment and cross disciplinary project based on an annual voyage over four years with groups of artists, writers, collectors and filmmakers from Europe and China travelling and around the Scottish Western Isles on the sailing ship the Lady of Avenel, was one of many in his career that combined Chris’s passions for art, the environment and sailing.

Indeed, since 2002 Chris and his wife artist Anne Lydiat had lived on a fully seagoing converted Medway Coaster, the MV Rock, moored at Hermitage Moorings on the River Thames, one of just a few such vessels remaining fully operational and seaworthy left in the UK.

From the series Red Ice-White C type colour photographs on aluminum. Disko Bay, Greenland, 2008-09.

From the series Red Ice-White C type colour photographs on aluminum. Disko Bay, Greenland, 2008-09.

As a curator, he co-curated a major international touring exhibition for Cape Farewell, Unfold, that profiled the work of 23 international renowned artists addressing issues of climate change. Between 2009-2013 the exhibition was shown in Vienna, London, Newcastle, Newlyn, Liverpool, Chicago, New York, and Beijing.

In 2014, Chris co-commissioned the London Dazzle Ship with 14-18 NOW, WW1 Centenary Art Commissions and Liverpool Biennial. This high profile project saw the HMS President, permanently moored on the Thames in the City of London, decorated in Dazzle camouflage by artist Tobias Rehberger, inspired by the Dazzle Ships of the First World War. A major part of the 14-18 NOW arts programme to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, the project made headlines across the country.

1918 warship HMS President, in 'dazzle' decoration as part of 14-18 NOW, co-commissioned by Chris Wainwright in 2014.

1918 warship HMS President, in ‘dazzle’ decoration as part of 14-18 NOW, co-commissioned by Chris Wainwright in 2014.

Other recent exhibitions include solo shows We Are All Stars at the Nihonbashi Institute of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan, 2016 and First and Last at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei, Taiwan, 2015 with recent group shows including A Small Constellation of Photographic Evidence (artist and curator) at Chang Art, 798 District, Beijing, China, 2015 and Those Who Go East at White Conduit Projects, London, UK, 2015. His work is held in many major collections including the V&A Museum, London, The Arts Council of England, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, the Polaroid Corporation, Boston, USA and Unilever, London.

Tributes to Chris have started to come in as friends, colleagues and students share their memories of working with him during his time at UAL and beyond. Here, we share some of those tributes in a celebration of his life and work.

Nigel Carrington, UAL Vice-Chancellor
“Chris was a big man in so many ways – a huge, warm, affectionate spirit in a strong, rugged and seemingly indestructible body. He loved nature and travel to remote and beautiful places and exercised his powerful creativity with great passion and sensitivity. He campaigned tirelessly for the sustainability of our planet and his very substantial body of photographic work expresses his values more eloquently than words can express.”

Grayson Perry, artist and UAL Chancellor
“It always a delight when I encountered Chris. A sad loss.”

Sir John Sorrell, Chairman of the Court of Governors at UAL
“Chris was a lovely man, an inspiring educator and a great artist. We will really miss him.”

Simon Betts, Dean of Wimbledon
“I first met Chris in 1978. I was a first year painting student at the Art College in Sheffield, and Chris had just graduated from there and was teaching part time in the Photography department. I joined a photography elective that Chris ran and spent a week on the Sheffield moors taking photographs.

At the end of each day in the darkroom Chris would critique the work, and offer advice on next moves.  What I remember about his feedback was the genuine encouragement, quietly delivered. There was an understated touch to his feedback that somehow gave us first years confidence; an ‘open’ response to our work that allowed us to ‘get brave’.

When Chris took up his post as Head of Colleges and we met again, I reminded him one evening in Chelsea Arts Club, of that time in 1978, but he had, understandably, no recollection. Why would he? However, it was typical of Chris that he sought me out later that evening, somewhat anxiously wanting to know about his teaching back then: “How was it? Alright?”. I quite liked this show of vulnerability…a bit of uncertainty suggesting a lot.

Over the last six years as Dean of Wimbledon, I worked very closely with Chris and that quiet encouragement I encountered in 1978 was still very much in evidence on a one-to-one level.”

Carla Delfos, ELIA Executive Director
“His guidance has been indispensable for ELIA’s development. His wisdom, knowledge, sense of humour and friendship are a terrible loss.”

Sir John Tusa
“This is very shocking and sad news. No warning? Too awful. Chris was such a decent, serious, thoughtful and gentle person. He gave so much to Chelsea, so much to the university. His sometimes wry but always considered contributions were always worth weighing seriously. And what a fine artist he was, his works original, beautifully crafted, ambitious, sensuous, reveling in light. A real loss for all of us at UAL.”

Darrell Naiker, Print Manager at Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon Print Services 

“Chris Wainwright was pivotal in the expansion of Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon Print Services. He believed in the service and that the facility would greatly enhance the Colleges’ profile within UAL.

His practice has always been an inspiration. A keen eye for detail and his constant will to push his creative boundaries have proved to be a major influence on our operation as a service—our discussions on art and the ways to effectively communicate its messages, our experiments on his projects are all crucial elements of this. To date we have produced much of Chris’ work exhibited globally.

Chris, his creative excellence and great charisma will sadly be missed.”

 Lynne Finn, Secretary to the UAL Professoriate  

“I had the pleasure of working closely with Chris in his capacity as Chair of the UAL Professoriate. He was always so welcoming, warm and friendly, sitting in that huge Head of College office at Chelsea. On his 60th birthday, on the 17 March 2015, he held his Professorial Platform entitled Pause, in conversation with Quentin Cooper. To date, it’s the only Platform to hold a pub quiz (yes, that surprised us all! :-). You can listen to a recording of the Professorial Platform on YouTube, and read the related publication, a lovely reminder of his humble persona and his artistry.”

John Carson, Professor of Art, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh USA

“I knew Chris from the early eighties. I always loved his work and I respected his intelligence and the admirable determined way he managed to maintain his artistic practice while building an illustrious academic career.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to work with Chris at Central Saint Martins. I cannot imagine having a better or more supportive Dean when I was Course Director for BA Fine Art. It was great to work with someone who was also a friend and to be able to confide in each other when things got tough and to share a laugh or two when things got completely impossible.

Chris was a commanding presence. I remember him as being firm and resolute when it was necessary but also being open and accommodating to constructive dialogue. Maybe he banged his head against the wall when he got home, but I never knew him to lose his cool at work, even when circumstances got out of hand, or when people were being totally unreasonable. He took it all in his stride.

After Central Saint Martins, I looked forward to our occasional rendezvous, having a few drinks, and a few laughs and catching up with goings on in the world of politics, art, higher education, and of course football. I will miss those get-togethers, his quiet wit and the steady presence of the big man.”

David Walker Barker, artist

“It was with shock and great sadness that I learned of the passing of Chris, who I first met in the 1970’s when he was studying in Sheffield where I was artist in residence and also teaching part-time. I remember him with great affection and even back then he displayed great commitment to his work as an artist and the beginnings of his interest in environment that has subsequently evolved into a deep and enduring concern. Inspired by these things, he became a great inspiration to others, not only as an educator and an exceptional artist but also as a person well remembered by many. My condolences to his family and to those who will miss him yet, like many, will also remember him for his empathy and his extraordinary achievements.”

Will Wyatt, CBE, former chairman of the London Institute and subsequently University of the Arts London

“I always enjoyed time in Chris’s warm, embracing presence. He was quietly insistent about the important things, art, students, improving the world. He was a lovely chap and there was no better guide to the outstanding works in a degree show.”

Rod Bugg, Professor Emeritus, UAL and former Principal of Wimbledon School of Art

“When Anne rang me to tell me of Chris’ death it seemed quite unbelievable.  I had know Chris since 1980 when I met him at Spectro Arts Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne.  He was running workshops there whilst I was hanging an exhibition of my work in the gallery.  Our friendship grew from that day.  Within two years he had become a wonderful and inspiring colleague at Newcastle Polytechnic as well as co-exhibitor in exhibitions in Cardiff, Dundee, Newcastle and Liverpool. We remained close friends throughout Chris’ life, even though I neither fished nor had the slightest interest in football.  Our careers touched in different institutions over the years from Newcastle to CSM to Wimbledon. His kindness and generosity, warmth and wit will stay with me and my family as well as with his many many friends, colleagues and students past and present.”

Laura Sneddon, Personal Assistant to Chris

Dearest Chris was my good friend as well as my boss, and I will miss him so much.

He gave me my first job at UAL, at CSM as his PA in the School of Art. I remember my last question in interview (bearing in mind I had just moved down to London from Sheffield) was, ‘Now then, are you Wednesday or United?’ I chose the Owls and knew I’d fluffed the answer by the look of sheer horror on his face. Luckily he called me two hours later and offered me the job anyway and all was forgiven.

When the job at CCW came up I was on maternity leave; getting your head out of baby duties and back into interview mode is tough, but he was his usual gentle self and made me feel relaxed. I got the job and when I started he gave me one of his welcoming bear hugs, after which I had to tell him I was pregnant again and would be off in 6 months’ time!  Then, when I came back, he told me he was retiring and had just one year left. So, we’ve had a very strange working relationship, one or the other of us always on the move. Like (slow and steady-moving) ships in the night.

Chris was always looking ahead to the next adventure and never stood still for long. He took his role seriously: he really cared about art education, he really cared about the environment, and if you became friends, he really cared about you too. All it would take was a chat over a cuppa or a beer.

He also had a penchant for a chocolate biscuit. If you needed Chris to complete a task he wasn’t so keen on doing, he was easily persuaded with a biscuit.

It still feels like he’s away on one of his many trips and will mooch in any moment for a cup of earl grey and a natter.

Miss you Chris, my friend.

Laura x

You can read more tributes to Chris from his former colleagues at CSM on their blog.

The University is discussing with Chris’s family a suitable memorial event at UAL to celebrate his life and work. Details will follow in due course.

We will add more tributes to this post as we receive them. If you’d like to contribute, please send your memories of Chris to
Chris Wainwright, 1955-2017.

Chris Wainwright, 1955-2017.

If you work or study at UAL and are affected by this news about Chris, please be advised that the following support is available: