Isolation Interview with Jack Penny

During Lockdown 3.0 in the UK we interviewed some of our artists to see how they were getting on and how the pandemic has effected their practice.

We sent Jack Penny a camera, a list of questions and invited him to give us an insight into his daily life in the studio.

SEAM: Do you have a daily routine in the studio, can you talk us through it? Or does each day begin differently?

Jack Penny: My mornings are very similar. Always with a run followed by a shower and a coffee. Then, I make my way to the studio which is only a 5min walk away from my house. If I have got a project I am working towards I often have a list of paintings that need completing. When I don’t, I use these times as more of an experimental period, developing ideas and new bodies of works. There is no particular pattern as to how long I work.

Some days, I can be in the studio up to 8 hours and others are more of a struggle meaning I’ll only spend a few hours in. On these days, having a lack of inspiration which leads me to research and look through books, interviews and documentaries on other artists. I often wonder why some days you can go into the studio with the best intensions and nothing works out and other days, it’s just easy.

However I feel or whatever else is going on I will go into work, even just for an hour most days. By the end of the day, I usually go skateboarding or surfing depending on the weather or meet people at the pub. Then home and it starts again.

SEAM: Your studio is by the coast near Portsmouth. Can you tell us a bit about what it is like living and working there?

JP: My studio is a converted boathouse on the sea front. An odd place to work for someone who paints largely about the hustle of the inner city life but I have come to love its isolation. It took me a while as my past studios had always been in heavily built up industrial estates in London but now, I don’t think I could go back to that. I keep the studio clinically clean and it has to be this way for me as my process is very instinctive and highly physical, my work is often hectic which creates a tremendous amount of mess. This said, I need to have a clear environment when I am working so that I can see what I am doing. Therefore, I often deep clean the studio and repaint the floor white before starting a new batch of paintings. It has become a sort of ritual.

SEAM: You often work through different series around a theme or particular narrative. The most recent being a series of work called ‘Swimmers’. Can you tell us more about how this series came about and the ideas behind it?

JP: Swimmers series I started putting my work into series about 4 years ago. I like the idea of going back and forth between series and revisit them at a later date with a fresh perspective. It helps keep things clear for me. The Swimmers series started just before lockdown as more of an experiment and during the lockdown it somehow gathered its own pace, constantly developing. The longer the lockdown went on, the less serene the Swimmers’s got. They almost went from swimming to drowning. This was an unconscious development.

SEAM: Is there any artist in particular who has had an impact on you and your practice?

JP: With a lot of people, taste changes over the years and so do influences. I have a lot of artists in the past which have been integral to my development but as the moment, it’s George Baslitz.

SEAM: Your work varies from painting on paper, to board, to canvas to wood? Can you tell us about how each of these flat surfaces differ for you and does each surface dictate a different style of work?

JP: The variety of surfaces I use enable me different approaches. For example, I have recently returned to painting on wood boards. It is tough and has no flexibility letting me handle the painting in a completely different way to how I would work on paper. Paper would require a more delicate hand and a careful consideration of layers as it can only take so much. I also like working on reclaimed materials which had a function once and now have earnt their natural patina. I am fascinated by surfaces and the natural wear of inanimate objects.

SEAM: I came to your studio recently and you showed me the new household paints you are using. Why have you chosen to use these in particular over oil or acrylic?

JP: I want something that allows me to move quickly from the early stage of a painting to the more crucial part. These paints are perfect for this and allow for a quick background set up before getting me to a stage where I can start to really develop the painting.

SEAM: What do you listen to when you work?

JP: When I am working, I am almost always listening to music but not necessarily to enjoy it but rather as a tool that distracts me from over thinking my first instincts whilst painting.

SEAM: What collaborations, if any, have been most successful in your work? If you haven’t had any yet, who are would you most like to work with?

JP: I think my collaboration with Hugo Hamper-Potts with whom I shared a studio in London for years as well as three successful London shows comes to mind. He came from the Florence

Drawing Academy and I came from an illustrative background. Our body of works unconsciously develop together bring us to our final show at Cob Gallery called, Reaction To.

SEAM: Do you collect art yourself? Is there anything new in your home you would like to tell us about?

JP: Yes, I started collecting work a few years ago. My latest purchases were, a beautiful monoprint which Alex Brooker created when in Tanzania and two powerful woodcut print portraits from Huddy Hamper, a young university artist to watch out for.

SEAM: What has inspired you most recently? Be it a film, book, quote or person.

JP: Lately, I read Keigh Vaughan’s Journals. I was inspired by his absolute dedication to his practice. Yet on the same vein it was incredibly interesting to read through how such a talented man, let his mental health deteriorate from not being satisfied by his own work. I have noticed in myself that my moods are often dictated by how well I am painting and I am eager to learn how to exist outside of my work, if that is ever possible.

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