Chris Wainwright, 1955-2017

Photographer and pro vice-chancellor of the University of the Arts London remembered

November 2, 2017
Chris Wainwright

A university leader and artist deeply committed to environmental issues has died.

Chris Wainwright was born in March 1955 and spent his early life on a farm in Derbyshire. When he was eight, he and his adoptive parents were evicted, and they moved to Sheffield. There, he studied for a BA in fine art at Sheffield Polytechnic (now Sheffield Hallam University), before going on to an MA in graphic design at Birmingham Polytechnic (now Birmingham City University).

After graduating in 1978, Professor Wainwright took on a number of short-term teaching posts, and in 1981 he was appointed principal lecturer in the media studies department at Newcastle Polytechnic (now Northumbria University). Futureland, a touring exhibition that he put on with John Kippin, established his reputation as a major photographer.

In 1992, Professor Wainwright became course leader in fine art at Nottingham Trent University, moving on five years later to become dean of art at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. He would later serve as a pro vice-chancellor at UAL. He also played a wider role in promoting his ideas about art education through the European League of Institutes of the Arts, where he was president from 2006 to 2010.

Throughout his time in senior management roles, Professor Wainwright continued to develop his artistic practice. His deep commitment to combating climate change often led him to produce work in extreme weather conditions, in one case beaming red light on to floating icebergs in the Arctic. He worked with survivors of Japan’s 2011 tsunami in a group performance on the shoreline. And at the beginning of this year, he curated and took part in a joint cross-disciplinary show at a museum in Beijing, What Has to Be Done. The show was based on a sailing voyage made, in four successive years, around the Scottish Western Isles by groups of artists, writers, collectors and film-makers from Europe and China.

Nigel Carrington, vice-chancellor of UAL, described Professor Wainwright as “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.”

Since 2002, Professor Wainwright and his wife and fellow artist Anne Lydiat had lived in a converted coaster on the River Thames. He died of a heart attack on 2 September while attempting the Three Peaks Challenge in Yorkshire.

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