Breaking the Mould - Giles Penny
Photo by Ben Taylor

Giles Penny

Interview by Phil Simpson on 18th September 2013 | Photographs by Ben Taylor

Giles Penny, Artist, is known for his sensitive, semi-abstract work. Giles Penny talks to Localeyez about his inspiration, and why he doesn’t have a philosophy for life!

Where did you grow up?
I am still in the process of growing up, but originally Venus.

You came to Bruton 10 years ago. How has the town changed during that time?
Bruton is becoming sanitised, fresh paint here fresh paint there fresh paint everywhere! There are a lot more cars than there used to be but the rural nature of the town remains. We still have lots of lovely tractors and trailers thundering through the high street, which appear huge and seem to dwarf the houses on either side.

Bruton feels like an Island, all roads narrow on nearing the town, I see the roads as rivers and imagine my truck as a boat that circumnavigates the one way system, I like going round that, and always enjoy going around again in search of a mooring spot. I also like the fact that Bruton is not on the way to anywhere.

How does where you live impact your creativity?
I am truly inspired by the trees, the colours, clouds and the motion of the land. I could spend hours in the garden just perceiving the plants and trees, and find the natural flow of things very grounding. Luckily this part of Somerset has a lot of trees, bushes and clouds, also at night a good smattering of stars.

I found that the techniques I had learnt had been restricting my creativity, as only certain practices were demonstrated, and have since spent time trying to unlearn much of what I was taught!
A conduit for the creative flow
A conduit for the creative flow. (photographed by Ben Taylor)

When did you know that you wanted to make a living creating art?
Somehow I always knew I wanted to dedicate my life to creative expression. I remember one Christmas, when I was eight years old, asking my mum if I could have a “making kit”, she said, “what do you mean, a making kit?” All I could explain was that I wanted something to make things with. She rustled up some random bits and pieces and put them in a cardboard box and wrapped it in Christmas paper. I remember being a tad disappointed with the contents but had to blame only myself as I had no idea what I was asking for.

I liked drawing and painting, and I started attending art classes at quite an early age. It was there that I was taught about the ‘ala prima’ technique of oil painting and observational drawing. I would go to these classes once a week and odd weekends until I was thirteen. It was only much later that I found that the techniques I had learnt had been restricting my creativity, as only certain practices were demonstrated, and have since spent time trying to unlearn much of what I was taught! This has enabled me to embrace new ways of expression, and take a more abstract and open approach to the creative process, so in a way I am indebted to the teacher in those art classes.

Describe your path to what you’re doing now.
I left school early, and then went to Art College in London when I was sixteen. After I graduated, I worked for a props company in London for a couple of years, but discovered that working for somebody else was really limiting. So, I decided to do my own thing. One day I was sitting in the Tate Gallery café having coffee with a friend. She mentioned that there was an advert in the artist’s newsletter for a studio in Sussex, which was rent free in exchange for ten hours work a week. I went to take a look at it, and a day later I had moved out of London and set up my own studio in Sussex! After several years of doing odd jobs for my rent and working as a portrait painter I then moved to Arundel and set up a studio there before moving to Bruton.

Giles Penny sanding down
Giles Penny (photographed by Ben Taylor)
"When I walk into my workshop I’m usually straight on it and in the ‘zone’ and it doesn’t take me long to know what I’m going to do. In a way, working is a bit like meditating."

What helps your creative process and how do you get into the zone?
When I walk into my workshop I’m usually straight on it and in the ‘zone’ and it doesn’t take me long to know what I’m going to do. In a way, working is a bit like meditating. When I’m in that state, ideas often pop up out of nowhere, and I have to stop what I’m doing and write or draw them. I have drawers stuffed full with ideas, and there’s never a shortage of creative inspiration! I prefer to have a quiet space to work in without any music or other distractions. All of this helps me to get to that still point and openness.

What’s your media of choice?
I wouldn’t say there’s one particular media that I prefer. I tend to use a wide range of materials depending on the subject matter, I like using clay and plaster because of the physical effort involved in using those materials, welding up an armature to support the clay is an exacting task and also a noisy one. Using steel has its own unique challenges. Painting is a more cerebral pursuit and less physical than making sculpture and I like the quiet space it demands.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever created?
When I was asked to exhibit at the Bruton museum as part of the Bruton casespace, one of the available display cabinets looked to me like an incubator of sorts as it had a glass top and sides, I filled it with a sea of eggs set in green egg boxes, I made a small man from a bit of green egg box and placed him in an egg that I had cracked open, this gave the illusion that the man was climbing (hatching) out of the egg. The idea was to bring to ones attention the fact that we are all born from an egg and are essentially made from the same stuff; it was a literal representation of that basic idea. Some people got it, and others were totally baffled. It’s all subjective, and people perceive things in different ways. ‘Art is a Tart’ but in this case a cabinet full of eggs.

Giles Penny Composition
(photographed by Ben Taylor)

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not creating art?
I’m really into gardening. In the place where I live at the moment I started off planting a classic cottage garden with the usual herbaceous plants and flowers, I realised after a time that there wasn’t much structure, it all looked a bit flouncy and gay, so I ripped all that out went to the garden centre and got a load of bushes that could be clipped, evergreens, yew, holly, privet, etc. My plan is after about ten years to have a finely clipped topiary garden.

What makes you laugh?
Silliness makes me laugh! I think people take themselves far too seriously, mind you, with all the shit that we are bombarded with by the mainstream media who can blame them.

Are you creatively satisfied?
Not really. If I were totally happy with what I was making, I would probably be less motivated to explore new things. I see my creativity as an ongoing journey and, like many of my art projects, a work in progress.

Giles Penny paints
(photographed by Ben Taylor)
Giles Penny glasses and coffee
(photographed by Ben Taylor)

What’s your philosophy in life?
I suspect that if someone claims to have a philosophy they might be stuck. I believe that having a particular view or stance can be quite limiting. It can cause someone to think in a certain way, which can really inhibit exploring unexpected and novel ways of thinking and being.

What plans do you have for the future in terms of your creative work?
I don’t have any specific plans. I simply want to carry on making things; I have a constant stream of ideas, and feel happy to explore these as and when.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell the young Giles Penny?
A lot of people have told the young Giles Penny stuff that has turned out to be useless. Be true to yourself is one that I would have like to have heard. The world is full of endless creative possibilities.

What was the happiest moment of your life?
Life is full of happy moments, it is equally filled with sad moments, but realising that there is an end to a ‘bad trip’ was quite something, leaving school!

More information about Giles Penny's work can be found at his website