Seven Dials has officially announced the next installation for its community initiative, The Artist’s Artist Project, which sees an ongoing series of public artworks exhibited in the unique West End destination, before being donated to selected charity partners.
Displayed on Shorts Gardens, the latest work by Rene Gonzalez is titled At the Entrance of Seven Obscure Passages and pays tribute to the 30th anniversary of the neighbourhood’s iconic Sundial Pillar and the conservation efforts of The Seven Dials Trust, while conveying the area’s wider history and sense of discovery.
The exclusive work takes the place of The Evolution of Agatha Christie, by British artist Iona Rowland, which was inspired by the literary icon’s novel The Seven Dials Mystery and will be auctioned shortly with all profits to go to UK women’s charity, The Fawcett Society.
Each installation for The Artist’s Artist Project is interconnected, with the showcased artist nominating another for the following installation. London-based Rene Gonzalez was one of three artists put forward by Iona Rowland, whose piece was then selected by a panel of Shaftesbury representatives and Seven Dials stakeholders.
Rene brings his signature aesthetic of ‘magical realism’ to the piece, using acrylic paint on raw canvas to depict the iconic Sundial Pillar, and capture the architecture and evolution of Seven Dials since its establishment in the 17th century. Key historical figures are also present in the piece, including Thomas Neale who designed the estate, and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands who unveiled the reconstructed monument for The Seven Dials Trust in 1989.
Rene Gonzalez Q&A
What is the name of your artwork for Seven Dials?
“At the entrance of Seven obscure passages”
How did you first find out about this project?
I first came in contact with this project when I saw an Instagram post by Iona Rowland showing her Agatha Christie work installed in the space on Short’s Gardens in Seven Dials. I’ve been a fan of hers for some time and I was very excited to see her work in such a cool space in the middle of London. When I was contacted about participating for the next project it was great to find out a bit more about this area so rich in art and culture with a great sense of community.
What inspired your shortlisted entry?
Since the theme was the area of Seven Dials with this very particular junction that is such an iconic landmark in the heart of the city, I thought about the neighbourhood as a space existing in different times, the idea of transformation and cycles and of the sundial capturing all of these moments throughout its history. The way I approach my work is like a dream version of a place or moment, almost like a spiritual or surreal version of things with elements of symbolism and magical realism surrounding the themes I’m putting onto the canvas, like the Lion and Unicorn representing Great Britain being depicted as spirit animals guarding the area. My sketch featured Thomas Neale who designed the area, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands who unveiled the Sundial in 1993 when it was reinstated after it had been taken down since 1773 and iconography from seven dials today, all interacting as if existing together even if they existed in different stages of its development.
What elements from Seven Dials were most appealing/stood out in your final piece?
The buildings that face the dial at the end of each street play a big role in the identity of the district and I wanted them to look slightly ambiguous to further communicate the sense of different eras interacting.
What do you feel public art brings to a community such as Seven Dials?
The visual languages we see in public spaces, like architecture, advertising and art are an important part of a culture’s identity. I really like this idea that cities reflect the people who made them at a certain time in history, but that in turn, as those cities evolve, we are being formed to reflect this environment that in so many ways precedes us as individuals. The Art that we see in public spaces represents a voice in this complex landscape and I think that a community can only benefit from a healthy relationship with different cultural activities and interaction with different artistic voices.
What do you hope your artwork will contribute to the Seven Dials area?
Living in London for over seven years now has been a formative experience and really shaped my current practice as an artist. My background in Costa Rica was as a mural and graffiti artist where I would create works in public spaces reflecting the values of different communities and entities such as hospitals and cultural centres. After transitioning to painting and studying fine art at the City & Guilds of London Art School, the themes and technique of my art have changed in many aspects, perhaps because I am now addressing a global community, but the way I communicate to the viewer has remained an accessible and inclusive media. There is a huge benefit to feed from a culture that nurtures the arts to form part of its core identity as much as London, and at least to me it feels as if I am now part of that society. Perhaps some viewers will have a glimpse of seven dials the way I think of it, like a mythic space filled with enchantment, secrets and mysteries.
You’ve mentioned street art as a key influence – are there any artists or works you particularly admire?
Back in Costa Rica, British and American graffiti artists were greatly inspirational but I’m currently more into artists like Adam Lee, Rosa Loy, Adrian Ghenie, Clair Tabouret, or Peter Doig.
Is this the first time you have worked with a destination?
I’ve actually worked on a few commissions with a destination, such as the 20 meter painting on canvas for the Clyde & Co Blank Canvas Art Prize. I personally really enjoy the different relationships created between the artist and different people or entities when working on a commission, reinforcing the idea of a dialogue between the artist, the artwork and the audience and I agree with the concept that the work has a life of its own in which we can be the driving force but many other parts of the process, including others input are part of the final product.
How did you bring your signature style and aesthetic to this piece of work?
As an artist I just have an emotion or idea I want to communicate, and with this project I really wanted to evoke the sense of quotidian enchantment one gets from the area of seven dials. Before coming to study here I had never travelled much, definitely not anywhere in Europe, but since then it’s an area I’ve been familiar with and my perspective is that of someone who doesn’t recognise this environment that seems both new and ancient at the same time, but also of someone who has chosen this city as my home and embrace its values. So my approach was to make that feeling come across, like this area is beautiful, mysterious, full of history, life and a historical legacy behind each surface. Giving the work that personal perspective is the way I make the project my own and the visual aesthetic progresses naturally often shaped by the creation process of my practice.
What key techniques / mediums did you use? E.g paint / mixed media
The Piece is an acrylic painting on raw canvas
What research did you uncover for this commission?
I mostly looked at the process of the area’s development and how it went through these stages of basically being a hub of misery and crime for the people that lived there and frequented the area. There were so many historical characters that have been involved with this estate. Being an artist it’s no surprise names like Monty Python and Terry Gilliam caught my attention, but characters like Thomas Neale and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands were at the heart of the story I wanted to tell.
How do you feel about being selected as resident artist in celebration of the dial on June 29?
It’s a priviledge for me to have been selected and especially given my background in mural painting it feels like my practice is coming full circle but under my terms. One of the reasons I moved into fine art was because I wanted to get recognition from peers and the public for my art in a way that someone wouldn’t just paint over to just tag their name… Graffiti is a great art, but hasn’t been my platform for many years, ever since I wanted my efforts to be given a different kind of validation and project very much feels like that.
Have you featured Seven Dials or had any links to the area for any other art projects/commissions?
I have not.
What mood would you describe your artwork to have?
“Magical Realism” is the term I’ve been using of late.
What exciting projects do you have planned in the next few months, and the year ahead?
I’ve recently exhibited with the Messums Gallery and the Auc Art Lab residency in Malyebone. I am currently preparing for a solo show in Paris this month, at Galerie Belem and I will be participating in a project later this year at an Art Residency in Costa Rica.
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