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Meet the artist: Penelope Kenny

Posted on June 17 2016

Penelope Kenny is an Australian born artist who now lives and works in Brighton. Her work explores the relationship between humans and other animals, especially in connection to transhumanism, evolution, hybrids and biotechnology.

Through her hybrid creatures she investigates the potential outcomes of humans trying to control evolution through genetic manipulation and scientific tampering with the species boundaries.

She draws inspiration from Darwinism, dioramas, natural history illustration and taxidermy and takes great pleasure in imagining and representing the postmodern animal.

We have fallen in love with Penelope's beautiful and beguiling prints, so we had to sit down with her to find out more...

Above: Coevolutionary Mutualism


Why we love Penelope Kenny

She is a woman of many talents:

"I work as a printmaker, specialising in water-based screenprinting, although I am trained in many printmaking techniques alongside bookbinding and a bit of letterpress. I have supported my practice by working as an artist’s assistant, editioning prints for other artists and by teaching workshops to adults and children."

Above: Zebradog


Her passion for exploration:

"Growing up I was a bit of a nomad and moved around a lot, which instilled in me real passion for travel and exploration. I came to Britain from Australia (where I studied Visual Art at the University of Melbourne) originally thinking I would only stay for a short while. I initially lived in central London and came to Brighton occasionally to visit friends and the sea, but many years later I am still here and have made it my home."

"I worked at Tate Modern when it first opened and then spent some very magical years moving between Brighton and Mexico, where I worked painting murals with an indigenous community, making jewellery and teaching English. The birth of my son settled my roots somewhat and I fulfilled my dream of returning to art school, while he was little. He will always be my greatest achievement, he is such a lovely boy and I am very proud of him."

Above: Co-evolutionary Petula


She works by hand:

"I most enjoy making art that develops my technical skills and I prefer to work by hand rather than digitally. I create the positives for the silkscreen prints using a photocopier and by painting with Indian ink and drawing onto tracing paper. I developed a technique to make the inks I use by mixing finely ground pure pigments with pearlescent powders and screenprinting medium, so all my prints have a sheen to the colours that reflect light beautifully. I also mix metallic inks and have been experimenting with hand-colouring, as well as the addition of gold and metal leaf."

Above: Penelope working on a new piece


She values quality craftsmanship as much as we do: 

"I place huge value on things that are hand-made and locally produced to high standards of craftsmanship. I recently produced a limited edition range of silk scarves inspired by a series of silkscreen prints - ‘Love Bees’, made from hybrid bees mixed with flowers. The silk I use is heavy weight and very fine quality. The fabric is digitally printed by a company in East Sussex and each scarf is hand finished by a local Brighton dressmaker. There are some incredible things happening in Britain with digital technologies, textiles and print which I am keen to explore more."

Above: Love Bees Silk Scarf

Above: Love Bees Silk Scarf (Grey)


Her inspiration:

"I usually begin each new print with some kind of first hand research. I go to natural history museums and antiquarian libraries looking for inspiration. I have a growing collection of antiquarian illustrated books acquired from eBay, second hand bookstores and markets, which I use as resource material for drawings, collages and prints. ‘GMK (gold)’ was made using photographs I took of the taxidermy hares at The Horniman Museum in South London mixed with photographs of a model, who is a friend. ‘The Magnificent Rabbit-bird of Paradise’ was made after a research trip to the library of The Natural History Museum in South Kensington, looking at incredible large folio books illustrated by John Gould."

Above: The Magnificent Rabbit-bird of Paradise


Above: GMK (Gold)


"I have been interested in our relationship with other animals since I can remember and have been making hybrid human/animal images since I was a child. Maybe this is the result of growing up in Australia - encounters with the extraordinary wildlife were commonplace to me and the boundaries blurred a little. I enjoy going on long walks - bird and creature spotting. Luckily I live opposite a park and very near the South Downs and I spend a lot of time, in the summer, outdoors."

"My last few prints have explored the coevolution between insects and flowers, how two (or more) species can reciprocally affect each other's evolution. ‘Insectaflora’ is an eighteen colour screenprint inspired by the wonderful time when the first bees of the year emerge and the flowers begin to come out."

Above: Insectaflora


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