When I first introduced you to Ellie Pennick I warned you, she is a force to be reckoned with and I was right. Let us not forget, this is an artist who happily slaps politics with a hint of sex in your face, and no apology! Her mining town roots, something she is extremely proud of, led to her questioning and challenging the prevailing political and social discourse. Ellie, is the type of person you'd want in your corner and guess what.... she is now the director of The Take Courage Gallery.
Lets keep it real for a second! As an artist myself I can tell you, exhibiting your work is very expensive especially in London! Yet we are dying to showcase our talent. A lot of artists wont get the opportunity to have a solo show due to the costs which, is truly a shame as it is an experience every artists deserves to have!
In walks Ellie!
And Eleanor Strong, because every superhero needs a partner.
Eleanor Strong's main focus is finding new ways to help young artists continue to work in the current financial climate. In 2016 she curated Brits Abroad, where she saw that it was cheaper to fly British artists out to Berlin, and make an exhibition out of a suitcase, than to rent out a space in London.
The gallery is situated in South London, above the Amersham Arms - which just happens to be a locally run, independent pub, both businesses support one another. These two women are getting ready to take The Take Courage Gallery into a new direction. Already making it more than a gallery, by offering home grown and international artists the opportunity to exhibit their work in an affordable space, whilst offering a supportive network.
A few months back the gallery held the, Cant Stop Looking exhibition, by artist Olwynn Carroll. I interviewed both Ellie and Olwyn. Now, you may be wondering why I took so long to publish this interview. It was very important to me that this interview focused on the importance of being different, so I waited for the show to be over. I get a lot of emails from artists who worry that their work should fit into a particular box, they worry about not being understood. This feature will highlight the importance of finding a gallery that not only believes in your vision but wants to help you grow it! That's exactly what The Take Courage Gallery and Olwyn's partnership highlighted.
How did you discover Olwyn?
Olwyn contacted me through Instagram. She is a friend of friends, we are both northern gals with similar attitudes. She sent me a picture of her parents' toilet with a framed photograph of Margaret Thatcher above it.
I liked her instantly on a personal level.
Why did you want to give her a solo show?
A solo show has become a business arrangement between the gallery and the artist. An artist is chosen based on their prognosis in the future and not necessarily their current work. For a gallery, it is an investment, I think personally that is selfish. A solo show shouldn't now be a rarity. An artist shouldn't be holding their first solo show at the age of 50. There shouldn't be magazine articles titled '12 artists who deserve a solo show'.
Something has to change with this ideology in the art world.
I didn't choose Olwyn based on how she would influence the success of the gallery. I chose her because she deserved a solo show, because of her ethos, her intelligence and of course importantly the quality and context of her work. I wanted to give her a platform to show all these characteristics.
What did you like about her work?
The medium she works with is interesting. Stop-motion animation and handcrafted puppets aren't the norms. Her observations on sex, gender and wealth are such current issues that many artists are cautious to comment on. She also collaborates with other artists such as musician Greta Edith and writer Lucie McLaughlin. Her ability to bring all these art forms together is extremely impressive in a strong, immersive environment.
One of the many things I have come to admire about Ellie's vision is that she doesn't commit to the norm, both Ellie and Eleanor see the beauty in being different and that is exactly what Olwyn's work is. For me this exhibition was more than an art show, it was a celebration of being unique, it was confirmation that staying true to yourself and your vision pays off, a statement was made, loud and clear!
Now, we will hear from Olwyn and I hope my MAD Family hear her words, her art work is a testament to our ethos:- Be unique and don't follow the crowd! The rawness of her work is very unapologetic, I love how she forces the viewer to focus on aspects of her work that most would deem uncomfortable or not appropriate for public viewing. Most of us, shy away from conversation relating to sex or gender but Olwyn delivers it in a way to make you want to start questioning what is in front of you. Her use of puppets and animation was a genius idea, fusing different mediums together to make something whole kick-started a new and interesting conversation on the topics presented.
What did you hope to achieve with this show? i.e dialog / feelings/ thoughts from your audience?
My work is quite different to the stuff around at the moment, making it difficult to categorise. It’s hard for me to fit in group shows as my work sticks out a bit. Musician, CURRENTMOODGIRL (Greta Edith) creates the soundscapes for my work, I wanted to properly explore this element, to create an immersive sensory experience for the viewer, this tends to clash when showing in a group show. The solo show focused around a new piece CAN’T STOP LOOKING, 2018, in which two characters Rebecca and Jeremiah seem to converse across two television screens. This is the first time I have used dialogue in my animation, which seems to have been extremely well received. The exhibition emotionally moved many people, the isolation of the characters confined within the screens, brought to life human like attributes, people connected with each character and had empathy for their rather tragic existence.
"Can't Stop Looking" - what did you hope this title would invoke with your audience?
CAN’T STOP LOOKING is a quote from the female character in the animation, her lines are rather superficial and meaningless. The line suggests the lust of watching, gazing into, or looking at something you shouldn’t be looking at. Upon viewing the works the viewer will experience this notion, the texture and colour makes it hard to stop looking. The sentence “can’t stop looking” could be a sort of paranoid thought, that we all have, that reverberates in the viewers minds. Rebecca exclaims it several times, through this repetition she exposes her vulnerability. Upon watching her and Jeremiah we become aware of their distressed and saddened state, their human frailty is revealed. There is a tragic absurdity in this act as the viewer continues to watch these sad protagonists.
You chose to portray the frailty of humans through the use of puppets. Did you use puppets for their psychological attributes?
I have never been that into traditional puppetry! I just started to make a model move one day, it just sort of clicked. I could convey so much more through these moving effigies, the jerky yet relatable movements is what really gives them human attributes. Puppets have been used throughout history to animate and communicate the ideas and needs of human societies. I am in charge of the totality of the characters I dictate their emotions. In a way, my practice is like that of historical puppetry, I am trying to communicate social issues in a poetic and sensitive way, generating an emotive and empathetic response from the viewer. Through stop-motion the animation of each puppets initiates the uncovering of the characters, through the use of High Definition screens they are stripped bare. The fragility of their making exposed, the material presents us with details of their Plasticine skin, smeared and smoothed over wire. What is revealed is the trace of the brash fingermarks of the artist.
I made the moving portraits He&She for an exhibition at Bunkhouse Projects in October 2017, it was the first piece of work I made after graduating. This piece focused further the theme of duality, begun in previous work. Each monitor echoes gilt framed historical portrait paintings. ‘She’ is a parody of the classic female nude, ‘the muse’ of male desire. The intensity of colour exuding from the draped cardinal red fabric camouflages her, like a mirage she appears illusive and intangible, yet once noticed the viewer finds it is hard to avert their eyes, they hold a longing to touch. There is something very voyeuristic about this. Her relaxed nature is part what makes her so seductive, gazing out of the screen goddess like in stature. Her authority is in the erotic power she holds, she is in control. The Plasticine puppet is fetish, like a siren she holds something beautifully terrifying.
How do you feel it went?
The show went very well, it allowed me to experiment with the curatorial aspect of my work, less is more, it really is true. Stripping the show back, complimented the works and the space much more. I have worked with CURRENTMOODGIRL a couple of times before, but had never worked with writer Lucie McLaughlin. This was a totally new endeavour but it worked so well, it is so wonderful when you can converse with someone and develop meaning and understanding across disciplines. I loved working with Ellie Pennick, I respect and love her artwork and her personal attitudes towards it. So, The Take Courage Gallery was a great setting, I felt very comfortable and connected with the space very well. All in all it went extremely well!
Olwyn will be bringing, Can't Stop Looking, to Manchester, 1st March! Details in the video above.
All images used in their feature were obtained via The Take Corage Gallery and Olwyn's Instagram page.