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London-based artist back home in Claremont for show

Imagine the most labor intensive work you’ve ever done, then shrink it down to the size of a millimeter and multiply that by several thousand, and you get the idea of the complexity of Andrew Wenrick’s art.

And now the Claremont native and current London resident has returned for his first hometown show, “Displacement Zero,” opening Friday, May 10 at Claremont Museum of Art.

The exhibit includes work from the last decade of Mr. Wenrick’s conceptual art career. In it, maps of Los Angeles and elsewhere that have been disassembled and reconstructed in unexpected configurations, “challenging our perceptions of place,” according to a CMA press release.

Some of the pieces in the show have taken three years or more to complete. If one looks closely, it’s easy to see why. Every one of the thousands of surfaces in each piece are created by hand, mostly with an X-Acto Knife. To the layman, conceiving, designing and assembling these mathematically precise pieces might seem impossibly complex. But when one considers Mr. Wenrick’s schooling and background, the level of detail is less surprising.

He grew up in Claremont, attending Oakmont Elementary, Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic School and graduating from Claremont High in 1989.

Throughout his life, art was always there. “I’ve always done things with my hands and been out in the workshop making things out of wood,” Mr. Wenrick said. His curiosity led him to take private classes with Claremont’s legendary sculptor and teacher Betty Davenport Ford. At CHS he took pottery and drawing, and had a job working with a potter.

After high school, he was ready to change gears. “I don’t know why, but I found the university that was farthest away, applied there and got in,” Mr. Wenrick said. At Humboldt State, located in Arcata, about 100 miles south of the Oregon border, he was a zoology major.

“I went there thinking I wanted to train chimpanzees,” he said. “I’d always wanted a monkey, and my dad always said, ‘If you ever see one at a garage sale, then I’ll get it for you.’”

During high school and college summers, he had worked as “a grunt” for a neighbor’s masonry firm. When he was 19, home in between his freshman and sophomore year at Humboldt, his boss said something that resonated. “He said, ‘You’ve got so many opinions all the time, you should be an architect.’ That’s the first time it ever crossed my mind.”

He switched majors, and graduated from Humboldt with a bachelor’s degree in industrial design. He then moved to Oregon where he worked as an interior designer for a few years, got married, and in 2002 earned his master’s degree in architecture from the University of Oregon.

The young couple moved to Boston that year and Mr. Wenrick began practicing architecture. In early 2008 his wife, who works for a Swedish travel and language company, was offered a job in Switzerland. At the same time, he was offered a partner track job at the Boston firm.

“Then we had to decide,” Mr. Wenrick said. “During all this time I’m working 60 or 80 hours-a-week for someone else, and on the weekends I’m making sculptures out of wire, and being influenced by [sculptors] Alexander Calder and Donald Judd. I was just working on this constantly. And I thought, ‘Wow, it would be amazing if I could just sit down and really think about and finish a project in a night’s stretch.’ So that’s what tipped the scale for me to go to Switzerland. I thought, ‘I can take a pause.’”

The couple’s trajectory was further altered when their daughter was born in the spring of 2008. With all that going on, in July the family moved to Switzerland, where they spent five years before settling in London in 2013.

In 2014 Mr. Wenrick opened The Last Supper, an art gallery in the southwest London neighborhood of Clapham. “It started with me, with the assumption that I would have other artists,” he said. “Then I found three other artists that I thought would work well with what I’m doing, and it just grew from there.”

Mr. Wenrick is now fully immersed in the arts, and his architecture background seems to inform everything he does.

He’s first and foremost an artist, with several projects going at once, but he’s also a gallery director and manages up to 35 artists. He recently bought a manor house in the upper Pays de la Loire region of France, about four hours west of Paris, where he’s using his architecture skills to refurbish it as an art retreat. The plan is to mount shows of the work created at the retreat back in London at Last Supper.

It’s a long way from mixing concrete and dreaming of training chimps.

His work is now in private collections all over the world, he’s had solo exhibitions in London and Switzerland, and numerous group exhibitions. His goals are to have his work in permanent collections and museums, and to expand its scale.

Having a solo show in his hometown was “Nowhere near on my radar” when he left home 30 years ago, he said. “Maybe when we moved to Boston then I started thinking a little bit bigger artistically, but not when I was on the West Coast.”

One of the pieces in the CMA show is making its debut of sorts. “Stars and Stripes,” created between 2010 and 2013, includes 50 canvases, each one a “dissected” take on each of the 50 states. He’s shown 40 of the canvases at a show at a private residence in London, and 35 at his own gallery, but this will be the first time they’ve all been seen at once. “So it’s big,” he said. “And it’s always begged to be in a large and public space, where lots of people can see it. So it’s really exciting that this will be getting out there.”

Displacement Zero opens at noon Friday, May 10 at CMA, 200 W. First St., Claremont. Mr. Wenrick will be on hand for the opening, but will be headed back to Europe the day after to prepare for a show at Wohnidee Gallery in Luzern, Switzerland, which is opening at the end of May.

Displacement Zero will be up at CMA through August 25, with an opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, June 1.

The CMA show, “is definitely a great honor, for sure,” Mr. Wenrick said. His father still lives in town, and he’s been back once or twice a year to visit since moving away 30 years ago. It’s home, but being back raises complex emotions.

“Every time I go back to Claremont, I don’t feel 100 percent myself,” he said. “I feel a little bit like the person I was when I used to live there. I left town at an age and a certain maturity level, and when I come back I don’t feel like I have my current maturity level. I mean, I come back to my dad’s house, and I feel like I’m the kid again, you know?”

To see Mr. Wenrick’s art, click on andrewwenrick.com.

For more information about Displacement Zero, go to claremontmuseum.org.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com