Photos by Asia Morris.
Belgian-born, Amsterdam-based artist Adele Renault, the woman behind the larger-than-life pigeon mural going up at Graphaids art supply store for Pow! Wow! Long Beach, answered questions about her life and work during Jeff Staples’ 1-2-1 event Tuesday evening at the Art Theatre.
Audience members were able to gain insight from Renault, who made the jump to start living and traveling seriously as an artist nearly 10 years ago.
At the young age of 14, Renault traveled out of the tiny Belgian farm town where she grew up to Venezuela, then spent two years in Brighton, England. After graduating from the Academie Royale des Beaux Arts in Brussels with a degree in Graphic Design Renault tried to hold down a graphic design job, which was, albeit ironically, an act of rebellion. Having been raised by two musicians, she wanted a normal job and a steady paycheck, but the measly amount of vacation days allotted were not enough to satisfy her passion for globetrotting.
A young and punk Renault pictured in her hometown.
“One part of me thought yeah, I’ll probably end up being an artist, but I tried to ignore that for as long as possible,” Renault said. “Because I wanted a nine-to-five with a paycheck every month, because nobody else did around me. As a rebellion, I really wanted to fit in, just make money.”
Two years later she quit and, while helping her husband, Niels Shoe Meulman, who was already traveling to show his work in galleries around the world, Renault seized an opportunity to exhibit in San Francisco.
“We went maybe twice a year and would stay for a month,” Renault told Staple. “I was always going and helping. [San Francisco] was kind of our second home for a bit and after a couple years the gallery owner said, ‘You paint, too, right?’ ‘Yes, I do,’ ‘Would you want to show?’ ‘Yeah’ And that was in the Tenderloin, I was always taking pictures of the pigeons in the dirty alleys, first the pigeons and then the people.”
Renault's progress on her mural for Pow! Wow! Long Beach as of Monday.
“Why do you think you have a fascination with dirty alleys, the people who live in them and the birds who live in them?” Staple asked.
“Because they’re just as beautiful as the rest,” Renault said.
Known for her meticulously detailed portraits of both pigeons and people (but mostly pigeons), Renault’s works have grown from the size of an average canvas to walls that tower yards above her head. During the 1-2-1, Renault described the beauty she finds in a single iridescent feather, how she appreciates that when you look closely, their edges tend to fray and go off in their own directions.
You can find this impressive attention to detail in both her paintings and her large-scale murals.
Versatile in both oil and spray paint, her methodology involves taking photos of the grungy, underrecognized city birds, then using the shots for reference. She only uses her own photos, since her work is so photorealistic she says her paintings wouldn’t truly be hers if she used another’s image.
All city pigeons look the same, said Renault. She tells them apart by keeping her photos in separate folders named after the cities where she found them. Her first real portrait of a pigeon was of a seemingly lost Portugues bird in Amsterdam who wouldn’t leave her friend’s balcony.
Renault has also completed several portraits of Camp, a pigeon raised by a couple in Chicago who found its egg still warm after it had been discarded by window installers who destroyed the nest.
Screenshot taken from @campthepigeon.
When asked how she felt street art places among other artistic genres, and her involvement in festivals like Pow! Wow! Long Beach and Wynwood Walls, Renault spoke from her experience showing in galleries—and running one with Meulman for three years called Unruly Gallery—as well as creating public art.
“I love traveling to places like this, because this street art festival is the best, most organized festival in the whole wide world,” Renault said. “And it’s so fun to hang out with all these friends and artists. But, the street art is not real because it’s on the street, but it’s not done illegally and it’s also not high art[...]”
“So you definitely see this gallery, museum world, and then illegal street art world—” Staple interjected.
“—and then [legal] street art world, which still kind of has to figure out where it fits,” Renault continued. “But sometimes there's too much of it in one place[...]. It’s [about] contrast, you know, when it’s unexpected and you see a mural it’s beautiful.”
As an artist now making a living off her work, life can have its ups and downs, especially financially. When the going gets tough, Staple asked what prevents her from reverting back to working a regular job.
“But then you’re giving up the dream,” Renault said. “Because if you go back to finding a job then you stop making art so you stop developing your career. You have to just stick with it and eventually all the time you’ve spent making art will pay off.”