Eleanor McKenzie with Adam P. Sargent, Sergio Vergara Romero and Daniel García Ramos at S1A. / SUR.

Sumptuous cocktail of art, literature and gastronomy

Eleanor McKenzie is curator at the S1A gallery in Estepona and is looking for new local and international artists

Jennie Rhodes
JENNIE RHODES

Eleanor McKenzie is curator of the newly opened Gallery S1A, (short for Sótano 1 Arte) at Bacus Vinos y Licores in the Estepona village of Cancelada.

She explains that when she was asked by the owners, Sergio Vergara Romero and José Villar Pérez, to curate the first exhibition, she saw it as the perfect opportunity "to get back into the world I really loved".

Eleanor, 66, has lived on the Costa del Sol since 2002, when she came here with her then young son for "a clean break", after living in London throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

She knew a number of people who were already living in the area and says that a lot of people were moving to Marbella at the time, because it had "a buzz" about it.

However, she confesses that even Marbella at the start of the 21st century provided her with "a quieter life" than she'd had in London.

Moving to the capital for university from County Antrim in Northern Ireland, Eleanor, who had developed an early passion for art and art history, soon started to move in some of London's most exclusive circles.

Working in advertising during the '80s she describes as "mad parties and extreme budgets". On top of that Eleanor reveals that she married a musician and admits, "I did have a good time in London."

Eleanor McKenzie / sur.

With a degree in English Literature and Philosophy under her belt, as well as a keen interest in art and experience in advertising, Eleanor moved on to work as UK correspondent for the US art magazine Palm Beach and Naples Times, among other publications.

"I was the London correspondent and got invited to openings of new cocktail bars. I had a list of friends to take with me on a rota," Eleanor laughs.

When she started to look at options for moving out of London, Eleanor explains, "I could have gone to Miami with the magazine. I had job offers, but it's a long way to get back home."

Like many people, one of the considerations when looking at Malaga was its proximity to both London and Ireland and the relative ease in getting home quickly. "That is what made the decision for me," she explains.

Twenty years later and Eleanor says she has no plans to move anywhere else, although with the caveat that "it would have to be some really exciting opportunity to persuade me to budge".

The Kama Sutra

While Eleanor says that life on the Costa del Sol has been quieter than the heady London years, the last two decades have certainly not been dull.

She arrived with a contract to write three books about the Kama Sutra, which are sold in the UK bookshop chain Waterstones, among other outlets. In total, Eleanor has written nine books including some about Reiki, which she practises.

After completing the book contract, Eleanor turned her hand to teaching GCSE subjects at an international college on the Costa. She taught English Literature, Sociology, History and Art. "Basically anything not connected to IT, Maths and Science," she recalls fondly.

When the college closed in 2013, she went back to her advertising roots and started to pick up clients for copywriting contracts for international marketing companies.

One of the farthest-flung contracts Eleanor had was for a client in Vietnam, which came about through someone she knew on the Costa del Sol who had travelled to the country for work and put her in touch with a mutual contact. "It's a small world," Eleanor says of the chance connection, which led to a major book project.

She has also been a feature writer and editor for Society magazine and is a keen blogger. Ironically she was voted a top 20 Supercar blogger while working for Titanium - a former Marbella-based luxury car rental company "even though I don't have a driving licence", she confesses.

2022 didn't just open up the doors to the S1A gallery to Eleanor; she also started reviewing art and gastronomy for the Owners Club at Puente Romano Beach Resort magazine and has written extensively for the Nobu hotel group.

As for S1A, Eleanor admits that it's the first time she's actually curated an exhibition. Clearly well-connected in the international art world, she called on British artist Adam P. Sargent, who Eleanor explains is "familiar with the Costa". She felt that his work was "just right for the space and for Spain".

Adam introduced Eleanor to the work of fellow British artist Felix Price and the gallery's first exhibition came about. It opened in December 2022 in the basement of Bacus Vinos y Licores.

"It is important for me to look for artists who are sympathetic to the vibe here," explains Eleanor, who adds that for future exhibitions she is not just looking for international artists, but really wants to find emerging young Spanish artists and especially ones from Andalucía.

Eleanor says her philosophy about art and indeed her plans for the gallery is, "Art should encourage us to ask questions and look at something - whether physical or abstract - in a new way." She says she firmly believes that "art isn't created to match your curtains".