^ Penny Davenport, The Garden Will Bow, 2019, ink, wax, oil pastel on paper. Courtesy of the artist.
OTP Short-Forms: Marie Jacotey
An interview with the Athens-based visual artist.
Daydreaming, wrong answers and drawings that make you feel seasick.
Populated by a collective of kindly but vaguely unsettling bipeds, Penny Davenport’s detailed figurative compositions exude a timeless sense of pathos and essential human understanding. Davenport’s subjects are distinctly animalistic in their full-body fur, snouts, feathers and drooping or pointed ears, yet behind their earnest gaze a vulnerable sensitivity is discernible that suggests an awareness or consciousness that parallels the viewer’s own.
Oneiric landscapes often surround these soft figures and Davenport’s subtle handling of colour is deeply psychological in its tonality. Swathes of bleached coral and washed out cerulean imprint on the retina and continue to seep out inside the viewer’s memory long after the physical image is gone. The impression is potent, but indefinite, and the artist maintains a longstanding interest in nurturing an effect that is deliberately ambiguous.
OTP Is this the first time you have collaborated with Lola Halifa-Legrand? How did the collaboration come about?
MJ It was yes! Lola sparked the collaboration really, she came up to me with a script for my drawings and it all began then.
OTP Your work to date has often depicted private spaces - when it came to depicting landscapes for this project, what were your aims? And what were the biggest challenges for you?
MJ I have always been drawing landscapes as part of my various ensembles of works in the past; it is true they would always be adjacent to more intimate and private space depictions.
The film is mostly set outdoors. The challenge was less about the scenery though than the actual simplification of design for animation purposes.
I do love a pattern and we had to be clever in the use of this type of embellishment I cherish - otherwise we would still be animating it!
^ Penny Davenport, Tiger And Sad Pink Dog, 2018, watercolour on paper, 28 x 19 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
OTP There seems to a be a strong hallucinogenic flavour do your treatment of nature - could I ask you to talk about your relationship with the countryside?
MJ Yes, the aim was to visually complement the script, which was in itself a swirl of words that intensify as the movie unfolds and gets more and more surrealistic.
We both wanted the backgrounds to accompany the evolution of the drama, to become integrant to the fantasy narrative.
OTP I have read that childhood memories of driving across France heavily informed this series - is childhood memory something you have consciously addressed in your work before? Are ideas of childhood memory as opposed to adult memory interesting to you?
MJ I’m afraid not, the landscapes were actually drawn from fairly recent memories of driving around Marseille as well as Denmark (we were on a residency there for the storyboarding part) as well as taking trains across France with Lola mostly in the last three years.
I have also been taking inspiration from other artists works such as Darger, Vallotton or Juergen Teller – to only name a few obvious ones of the plethora I’m quoting in the short.
^ Penny Davenport, Receding From Shore, 2020, Ink on paper, 28 x 19 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
OTP Are you passionate about the technical intricacies of film-making? How did ideas of aspect ratio, or scanning technology effect the way you worked on this series of drawings?
MJ I discovered the whole process of animation in the making of this movie, my first. And it was SO exciting to get to understand the many layers of processes that go into it and to get to play with those every steps of the making.
What was mostly new to me – and for which I feel extremely grateful – was the insane team work that got into it; from the co-directing experience, to the relationships with such a group of talented and enthusiastic people, producers, animators (all extremely gifted drawers), musicians, actors, sound designers, colourists, editors, etc...
OTP What does it mean to you to be nominated for the 2020 Cannes short film official selection?
MJ It feels extremely lucky. We both feel thrilled that our film was selected and will be shown to such a broad and extensive audience.
^ Penny Davenport, Is Good, Is Frightening, 2018, Acrylic on paper, 25 x 18.5 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
OTP To what extent would you say your practice is political?
MJ Not sure to what extent. I feel making work for me is a way of journaling experiences and process some emotions.
I try to be honest and that’s my challenge. It feels more like trying to deliver observations than a commentary.
OTP Heterosexual romantic narratives often appear in your work - could I ask you to speak a little bit about your approach to representing sexuality?
MJ A fairly basic approach, I am fascinated by sex – intimacy in a general manner, not specifically heterosexual - and I only describe what I’m experiencing first hand within my smaller personal life perimeter which happens to be mostly encounters with men.
OTP When was the last time you were truly moved by an image?
MJ Last week in Assisi in Italy, I went to visit the San Francesco’s Basilic and Giotto’s all over frescoes really got under my skin.
^ Penny Davenport, Gazed And Gazed, 2020, Ink, oil pastel and wax on paper, 19 x 18 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
OTP Are you superstitious?
MJ Yes! But I try to not let it sink in.
OTP Obsession seems to be a recurring theme in your work - are there any other auteurs whose representation of obsession you particularly admire?
MJ I’m less interested in the representation of obsession per se than by obsession as a motor, the natural fuel to me of any passionate work. That extends beyond just art or literature.
For instance, I have been listening - rather obsessively ☺ - to Esther Perel’s talks lately and she fascinates me for how loving and intensely involved in what she does (couple therapy). I admire anybody who keeps pursuing his or her own particular thread of interest and finding the strength to put it out there for scrutiny.
My group of peers in that sense is the real-deal to me ; Kevin Manach, Lola Halifa Legrand, Lucille Uhlrich, Paloma Proudfoot, Marina Stanimirovic, Rachael Allen, Capucine Bonneterre, Alix Marie, Louise Nauton Morgan (STSQ studio), Soft Baroque, Surman & Weston, Stevie Dixx, Thom Trojanowski, Ugo Bienvenu, Hannah Thual, Coline Cuni, Pierrick Mouton, Jamie Shaw, Sophie Demay (in the shade of a tree), Assemble, Nick Ashby, Jamie Shaw, VVFA, Sophie Collins, Will Harris, Lou Marcellin, Carl Cattermole, Alix Janta, Kenny Dunkan and so many more.
OTP What is something you have recently discovered that you are excited about or enjoying?
MJ Hiking, not on too steep hills though - because I also discovered the extent of my vertigo!
^ Penny Davenport, Live In Japan, 2020, Watercolour on paper, 24.5 x 19 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
Born in 1979 in Inverness (UK), Penny Davenport completed her BFA at John Moores University (Liverpool, UK) and continues to live and work in Liverpool.
Penny Davenport's recent exhibition history includes Within The Distance at Johansson Projects (Oakland, CA), Antonym at Wilson Stephens & Jones Gallery (London, UK), The Secret Things (duo show with Jason Thompson) at BBDW Gallery (New York, NY), Silent Ancestors at Fortnight Institute (New York, NY) and Truth and Fantasy at Craven Museum, (Skipton, UK).
Recent publications of Penny Davenport's work include Silent Ancestors (Innen Books: Zurich, 2019) and Shared Worlds (Nieves Books: Zurich, 2018).
See more from Penny Davenport: