Alexandre Renoir
Keeps Impressionism Alive

by Michele Elyzabeth

Until a few months ago, I had no idea that Alexandre Renoir existed, or that he was related to the great French Impressionist artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir. However, after seeing his paintings at the Galerie Michael in Beverly Hills, there was no doubt that Pierre-Auguste's influence was present in his great-grandson's work.

Born in Cagnes Sur Mer in the south of France in 1974, the Renoir family moved to Canada when he was just a small boy. He grew-up surrounded by art and artists and demonstrated artistic abilities from an early age. He attended the Virginia Park School for the artistically gifted and the Victoria School for the Arts and Performance where he graduated in 1993. In addition to his formal education, he also attended classes at the Alberta Museum on Aboriginal Arts and Crafts garnering experience in sculpture, pottery, woodworking, stone carving, commercial art, photography and painting.

Determined not to walk in his great grandfather's shadow, Alexandre's first artistic venture was with jewelry design which he practiced for several years. I had the privilege to meet Alexandre Renoir during his exhibit and was quite impressed by his genuine joie de vivre, his sense of humor and, of course, his work. He shared with me some of his thoughts.
How did you get from Cagnes Sur Mer to Canada?
My father decided that there were opportunities to be had in the Wild West, I just wish he had picked some other place.
Because it was cold.
Very, very cold. From the South of France and the Mediterranean, straight to the North.
Why would anybody want to leave the Mediterranean?
I think he visited in the summertime.
How long did you stay there?
1980 until 2004. It was a long time — 24 years.
So you did all of your studying over there, right?
A little bit everywhere with individual artists and with everything. Everywhere I could find.
I understand that at the beginning, you really didn't want to be a painter.
No — I didn't believe I could be a painter. I painted for recreation and for myself. I'd sketch, and I'd do everything else. I was the only six year-old around that was allowed to play with knives and stuff, because I would create cities out of cardboard. And then destroy them, pretending to be Godzilla, because I was six. (laughs)
Why is it we don't know about you? Did you hide yourself on purpose?
No, not really. I mean, living up in Canada. I've only really been doing this professionally, 100%, for maybe 11 years, before that, it was on the side while I tried to decide what it was I was going to do with my life. It was almost cliché for any Renoir to become a painter. Don't get me wrong — with the last name, you had to at least try to paint one thing once. It's just that after Pierre-Auguste Renoir died, his three sons didn't want to go into painting. He had reached such popularity, that it wouldn't work. So they all went into the newest art form, which was cinema. And with cinema, they had all become directors, producers, and cinematographers like Jean Renoir who was a pioneer in cinematography, and was my grandfather's brother.
Were they people you got to know or not?
You didn't get to know any of the Renoirs?
I'm the youngest of the youngest of the youngest, so I'm pretty far away, like all the other descendants — such as the other cousins. It's a big family, but not that big.
Anybody in the entertainment industry?
Oh yeah, lots. They all stayed there. They're all actors, actresses, directors, and producers. I tried to act, but the director said, 'Alex, it's like you don't care.' It was mostly because... I didn't care.
Is that when you went back to the inevitable.
Yes and no. I still painted, sketched, and sculpted on the side. I'm a goldsmith and a silversmith. I would find gemstones, and I worked in photography, and radio TV. I tried the movies. I did PR and press. I worked in the theater in the front and the back. I tried it all, but at the end of the day I'd go home and I'd paint to relax. About 11 years ago, I came to the realization that I possibly could paint.
So how did you get to California?
I remember being in Canada, it was wintertime when one of my brothers, who lives in La Jolla, California phoned me 'Why don't you come down for a vacation?' Great idea, I thought. When I showed up at his house a few days later, he looked at me and asked, 'Well, where is your portfolio?' 'Portfolio? What do I need a portfolio during my vacation?' He said, 'Well, no, tomorrow we're going to Los Angeles and meet some publishers to see if we can help out.' A little warning would have been nice, so we ransacked his house and the only thing we could find was charcoal and paper and with that, I made a portfolio. The next day we had a meeting with Michael Schwartz, who's a lovely guy and has a wonderful gallery: Galerie Michael. And he's looking through my work, and he asked, 'You did all this?' I replied, 'Well, yes.' And he said, 'You did all these last night? 'You want to do this for a living?' It was like a light bulb just exploded. Like, 'Well, yes!' and that's how it really started 11 years ago. I wasn't hiding myself; I just wasn't all that visible.
Did you move here at that time?
What happened then?
We had to work on some of the immigration issues and everything, but eventually I did come down, and I've been down here for four years going on five and I do not plan on leaving yet.
Why San Diego?
The weather, the lights, the attitude of the people... I love San Diego, it's beautiful. There is a quality of light that completely changes everything, especially in my paintings, and it's very important. When I was painting up in Canada, it was beautiful there as well, but with long and very cold winters. And one of my favorite photographs that I took, some of my friends said, 'This is a beautiful black and white photo.' I said, 'It's not a black and white photo, it's a color photo. They said, 'No, that can't be.' I said, 'No, absolutely.' Because if you look in the corner, you can see a little piece of an orange traffic cone sticking out. Everything is black and white. And that really sort of puts it down for us and it really affects the painting of being dimmer, and a little more to the mood than the place I'm in.
You have really something particular in your painting — your blues are incredible, especially the dark blues.
Blue is my favorite color.
You paint a lot of flowers trees.
I love the landscapes and I love the floral and everything — the still life. I came to the realization that what I love to paint is more a sensation of feeling and trying to convey peace, calm and beauty. You're surrounded at all times with stuff that beeps and chirps and rings — made almost specifically to aggravate you. One of my philosophies is that if I can make something, no matter what it is, that for a minute of your life for you to wake up and just look at it and take a deep breath — a nice calming thing — and start your day that way, then I've done my job.

I don't see any beaches.
Oh, there are some. Of course. I have the best problem to have. I can't keep any inventory. A lot of things end up being almost like periods, like how Picasso had a blue period. I paint everything in a particular style for a month or two, and that's all that there is because everything else is gone. Then I change to something else, but that's all that there is — they're all gone. There are always some that come back, like the lilies. Those are always there.
Are you in various museums?
I'm in the Tennessee State Museum and we're working on a couple of other things. I'm in a lot of no-one-can-really-tell galleries and personal collections.
What's in the future for you? You have no plans — you just go with the wind?
The goal is to evolve and to keep going and change. You can't be stagnant. Stagnation leads to disease and death. You always need to be experimenting and trying new things and bringing in more colors and being varied and everything. Like my palette — when I started out — was ten colors. Then I add one every couple of years, I am up to sixteen now.
Who are some of your contemporaries who are just as successful as you are?
Oh, that's tough to say. I have so many amazing friends up here that are amazing artists. We're all so varied. But it's the attitude that counts the most. It's the drive and determination that counts the most. I can't really say. It's not for me to gauge where I am; it's for everyone else to tell me.
Who is you favorite artist besides your great-grandfather?
One of my absolute favorites is Van Gogh. And I really sometimes try to imagine and think, 'What did he see differently?' Yet while he was alive, he couldn't sell anything at all. He couldn't give it away. He couldn't. And now, he's one of the most renowned painters in the world.
And then you have the new wave of Dali that everybody in the entertainment industry just loved. It didn't matter what he said or did, they just loved him.
Oscar Wilde said that the first man to compare a woman's cheek to a rose was a genius, and the second was an idiot.
Can you share a special moment which describes the artist your great grandfather was?
Did you know that Pierre-Auguste Renoir refused to let anybody call him an artist? You either called him a painter, or you called him boss. That's it. Because when he was a kid, and he was working in a factory. He was born in Limoges. He was taken out of school, and his singing instructor came to the house, and said, 'I will make him a very, very famous opera singer. You must leave him in school.' But they couldn't afford it, so he was almost an opera singer. They sent him off to a factory in Paris. And in this factory, they were making fake Limoges ceramics, so his first job was to paint the patterns onto them. And the clever guy goes one day to show his dexterity and strength of ability. From the beginning he goes man and tells him, 'Look, I'll make you a deal. Pay me buy the piece, instead of by the hour.' He thinks, 'That's a good idea. If the pieces break, I won't have to pay him for it.'
Not much cheaper for them.
Three weeks later, he was making two and a half more times than everybody else.
He and all of his friends from the factory lost their jobs to a machine that printed directly onto the ceramic. He had an issue with that. He didn't want to be called an artist because art is too complex and he doesn't know everything. He's a painter and he also used to say, 'The man who makes this chair — he booked his time, his love, his craft, and his art into making a chair. You don't call him an artist, so then you don't call me an artist.'
Now I understand. Having grown up with 500 library books about him {Renoir}, I began to learn what kind of man he was. He inspired me to better myself and my art. The stories I learned, the philosophies he believed, and the work that came from them made me want to know more. Stories about his playful nature and that he believed there were enough dark things in the world that he did not want to add to them. These are some of his ideals that I have taken to heart and adopted. I no longer rebel against Pierre-August Renoir, I listen to what he can teach me.