Celebrating 20 years in St Ives, Alexandra Dickens’ new exhibition reflects her own unique story and her path to personal contentment and artistic success


Celebrating 20 years in St Ives, Alexandra Dickens’ new exhibition reflects her own unique story and her long path to personal contentment and artistic success...

Ask anyone to describe St Ives and more often than not they will say it’s a haven, a place of escape and peaceful existence. It is also, of course, a crucible of artistic energy and attracts settlers from far and wide, each with their own unique story.

One such settler is painter and gallerist Alexandra Dickens, whose works have become a mainstay of the West Cornwall art scene since she opened the Alexandra Dickens Gallery in 1995. This year Alex celebrates 20 years in St Ives, and Whit Week sees the launch of the Alexandra Dickens 20th Anniversary Exhibition, a much anticipated show of new St Ives series’ works and special edition canvases which will continue throughout the summer.

Since her first exhibition at New York’s 28th Street Gallery in the mid 1980s, Alex’s vibrant, abstract paintings have reflected a life lived with considerable force of energy. Hers is a fascinating tale, from a heartbreakingly difficult childhood, through a successful career as a model, to her single-minded commitment to life as a full time painter.



Now this special anniversary exhibition, which opened on 23 May, has given her the opportunity to reflect on her achievements and the long path to personal contentment and artistic success.

Born in London in 1958, Alex was raised in children’s homes until the age of ten, an experience she describes simply as difficult’. For the next eight years she lived in Oxford with her mother, who worked two jobs to keep a roof over their head, but when Alex was eighteen her mother died, leaving her abruptly and entirely alone. A young woman of considerable beauty, height and steely self-belief, Alex saw an opportunity to support herself as a model and was quickly picked up by a London agency. This marked the first crucial step away from her tough beginning towards a life of independence and professional success, and by the early 80s Alex was living and working at the heart of a burgeoning fashion scene in New York.

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That’s when I became serious about art’ she tells me. I’d been driven to draw and paint from the day I left school, and the first painter I fell in love with was Kandinsky. I saw his work at the Guggenheim in New York and was completely inspired. I loved the New York art scene and the Abstract Expressionists, particularly Rothko, Pollock and de Kooning, then later Patrick Heron and perhaps my favourite painter, Gerhard Richter. Their works are filled with energy and passion, and that’s exactly how I paint - from the heart and not from the head.’

Immersed in the rich culture of one of the world’s most vibrant cities, Alex continued to model and paint, and sold her very first canvas in New York. That gave me the confidence to follow a career as an artist’ she says and painting remains my passion. I have a huge enthusiasm for what I do.’


Within five years she had returned to London where she continued to paint part-time alongside her work in the fashion industry, but in 1995 she made the ultimate commitment to her artistic career. I loved my life in London, but realised it would never give me the time and space I needed to paint. There was such a powerful art scene in Cornwall, so I packed my bags and headed for St Ives.

I came here alone and bought a little house on Back Road West. I lived upstairs and opened a studio gallery on the ground floor, and at last made a home for both myself and my work. I knew straight away that I had found where I belong, both creatively and emotionally. For the last 20 years St Ives has been more than just my home, it has also been the source of so much artistic inspiration.’

In the early days Alex worked in the tiny covered passageway at the side of the house, but as her canvases got bigger and demand for her paintings grew, the studio took over more and more of the house. Today, the Alexandra Dickens Gallery on Back Road West is a bright, contemporary space filled with strikingly colourful work, and Alex and her husband David live in a separate but equally contemporary house with a large, private studio just outside St Ives. The studio, at present, is filled with works for her anniversary show which she shows me with an infectious enthusiasm.

They represent her first, consciously built collection of works, designed to celebrate her continued love affair with St Ives and Cornwall.

In a look back to the start of her career she has reimagined the Cascades’ series she first showed in New York with a new collection of dazzling, texturally rich paintings. Her vigorous, instinctively applied palette marks and multi-directional layers are matched by an equally vigorous palette, from the alluring greens of paintings like St Ives Harbour Rain’ to the warm, sandy depths of works like Tidal Reflections. By contrast, her refreshingly unique Foreshore collection defines the Alex Dickens of right now, and combines experimental work with raw powdered pigment and high gloss epoxy resins which intensify her colours like a prism. The total collection of over 40 anniversary exhibition works also includes a new St Ives Landmarks series and a smaller, more intimate series of box framed works entitled Sea Glimpse.

As we talk, her excitement about the show and great affection for St Ives are self-evident. I am really excited about everything we have planned at the gallery for 2015’ she says. Living here it is impossible not to be completely awestruck by the Cornish landscape and the phenomenal light.

Those things feed into all of my paintings and this 20th anniversary exhibition has given me the opportunity to celebrate a place which has harboured me and nurtured my work.’

The private view of Alexandra Dickens 20th Anniversary Exhibition will be held on Friday 22 May. Celebrations will also include a series of Thursday night open gallery events throughout the summer, and the show will culminate with works on show for the 2015 St Ives September Festival.

Alexandra Dickens Gallery

Back Road West, St Ives TR26 INL

01736 796288 /