^ Penny Davenport, The Garden Will Bow, 2019, ink, wax, oil pastel on paper. Courtesy of the artist.
OTP Short-Forms: Penny Davenport
An interview with the Liverpool-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 Am I right in thinking that your first solo show was Silent Ancestors at Fortnight Institute? How did this show come about?
PD Yes, “Silent Ancestors” at Fortnight Institute was my first solo gallery show.
I can’t remember if it was Jane or Fabiola (the curators who run the place) who contacted me first, but they had seen my work and were very interested and supportive.
A couple of years later, after the initial contact with them, they asked me if I wanted to show my drawings at their gallery in New York.
^ Penny Davenport, Tiger And Sad Pink Dog, 2018, watercolour on paper, 28 x 19 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
OTP Had you been showing much in Liverpool before that point?
PD Not really. I had work in a couple of group shows that were a few years apart.
Liverpool is quite small and I’ve not really wanted to be part of any studio groups or collectives. In the beginning I really wasn’t interested in showing my work to anyone besides close friends, if they were interested.
I had lots of accumulated drawings that were being made and stored away. I was more interested in the making than the showing. In fact I was quite shy of anyone seeing them initially.
OTP What was your time at art school like? How similar was the work you were producing then to the works you are producing now?
PD I had a really good time. I came from a small seaside town in the South (Liverpool is much further North) so the novelty and excitement of this huge change took a long time to wear off.
I don’t feel I got a lot of what you might call training or teaching though. I think at Art School, the most important thing is often, for many, an opportunity to meet like-minded people. I felt lucky to be there.
My work was very different back then. The scale was bigger, because I had room to make large things. I was thinking about languages, misinterpretation, the wrong answers. But, when I think back to this time my overwhelming feeling is how young I was.
After I left it took me a long time to return to making art. Life after Art School can be hard for some, leaving you poor, unprepared, burnt out and a bit depressed.
But I would do it all over again and recommend it to anyone who wanted to do it.
^ Penny Davenport, Receding From Shore, 2020, Ink on paper, 28 x 19 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
OTP Whereabouts did you grow up? What was it like there?
PD I was born in Scotland and was raised briefly, only for a few years, on the Isle Of Skye. Then we moved to Cheshire and from there to Somerset.
Somerset I remember well. it was beautiful there, all hills and green and clean air. It was a special time.
OTP What did your parents do? What were you like as a child?
PD They had a DIY shop full of every imaginable tool and nail. It was like a treasure trove for the very handy, later they made pine furniture and at some point the house was a BnB.
I played a lot, drew a lot and watched too much telly, probably. In school I was a daydreamer, still am.
OTP I have really enjoyed the embellished polaroid photos on your instagram more recently, when did you start take polaroids photos?
PD I got a polaroid camera for my birthday, the film is pricey so I only use it now and then. The embellishment on some of them is just impulse, I don’t take them just to draw on.
I respond to things and when I do it’s like all of a sudden I’m fluent. I really can’t think and consider too much, I don’t want to know how things will turn out. For me this is exciting, it’s where the energy is.
Something that is planned is too stable and fixed for my liking.
^ Penny Davenport, Is Good, Is Frightening, 2018, Acrylic on paper, 25 x 18.5 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
OTP Are there any artists you feel you have been carrying around in your mind as sources of inspiration for significantly longer than others?
PD Yes, there are many, one especially, but I don’t want to say who, it feels personal and mystery is good. They live in Japan.
There are so many artists who I love, too many to mention. Like a favourite book, film or music it’s impossible to have a definitive list.
OTP What is your work environment like? Do you listen to anything while you work?
PD It varies. I have a studio room now in my flat which is ideal because I can work whenever I like. I don’t need or want a separate environment to do things but I know lots of artists who need this.
Until really recently my work environment was wherever I happened to be. I would draw on every break at work, on journeys, on the sofa on my lap (when I didn’t have a desk), the kitchen table.
I really didn’t have much choice, I couldn’t afford a studio at that point with a low paid job and not a lot of free uninterrupted time, so I just worked with what I had and it never really bothered me too much…well, it did sometimes.
I sometimes listen to music, podcasts, lectures or nothing. These things generally wash over me when I am making things though. Perhaps they occasionally feed into what I do, particularly music, but I’m not sure how.
^ Penny Davenport, Gazed And Gazed, 2020, Ink, oil pastel and wax on paper, 19 x 18 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
OTP Do you often finish drawings in single sittings? What is the longest length of time you have spent on a single work?
PD It’s rare I would complete a drawing in one sitting. Some drawings take a long time, generally many hours. Occasionally I’ve even worn out the paper as the surface becomes eroded by the nib.
I’ve come back to drawings sometimes after a year or two, mostly though I’m working on quite a few at the same time.
If I look too much at the same drawing I stop seeing it, so I need to alternate to another one. I can sometimes feel a bit sick working on the same drawing for extended periods of time, like being at sea.
OTP What was the last job you had?
PD I was a Teaching Assistant in an all-girls Secondary School.
OTP What is the most interesting on screen relationship you have recently observed in a film?
PD I saw Dario Argento’s film ‘Phenomena’ recently, the girl in it has a telepathic relationship with insects. They help her and guide her. It’s a dreamy film with a wicked soundtrack.
^ 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: