Giles Penny attended his first ever art class as a somewhat unwilling eight year old. “My mum saw a notice in a window and signed me up, but I was happy doing my own thing – I didn’t see the point of drawing vases of flowers.”
Despite this, the class equipped Giles to investigate his burgeoning ideas about art and how he could use it to express his thoughts about the world. “It provided a springboard to investigating ideas in a more personal way.’
After leaving school early, Giles moved from Dorset to London at the age of 16. “I did a foundation course at Heatherley School of Fine Arts in Chelsea,” he says. “It was the best experience ever, I loved having the chance to pursue so many different media – printmaking and drawing, lots of drawing, and a bit of sculpture.”
The course confirmed to Giles that he was on the right path. He went on to take a second foundation course in Bournemouth before heading to Newport, where he spent three years gaining a BA. “I had the misconception that I would be doing painting and drawing, but I was thrown into the deep end. We made art films and installations. It was very interesting.”
Today, Giles works mainly in painting and sculpture. “I translate my ideas into 2D or 3D, or both,” he says. “I like not being limited to just one medium. I use them equally – when I’m painting I prefer painting, and vice versa.”
Printmaking, too, continues to interest him. “It inspires me because it’s such a different technique, but you still need to be able to draw.”
I ask him if he spends a lot of time drawing and he hesitates. “Ye-es, but more time thinking. I think about how something could look, and how an idea can translate into something visual.”
His work explores ideas around the nature of human beings, as well as humans’ relationship with nature and “how we fit into the environment.”
These preoccupations can take any number of directions. For instance, at the moment, he explains, he’s growing increasing intrigued by the washing line in his garden. “It’s one of those rotary lines, like an inverted umbrella,” he says. “I think about how it looks with washing on it, and without, and how it stands out at different times of day. It’s a lovely thing – a fundamental part of the interaction between humans and their physical surroundings.”
He adds: ‘A lot of people wouldn’t notice it at all, or would see it and think, oh, yes, I must put more washing on that. But I’m interested in how it is a thing of beauty in its own right. My next adventure will be to examine those thoughts and see what they can lead to.”
I discovered Giles’ work at the RWA in Bristol, where his sculpture Mr and Mrs caught my attention. It’s accompanied by his painting Sell Your Cleverness and Buy Bewilderment, and the bronze Man in a Gallery (shown at the top of this post). “I think I might be the only person to ever sculpt a painting,’ he comments.
I tell Giles how much I enjoy his friendly-looking characters. “The posture of the person is as important as their expression,” he says. “You can look at someone from the back and know how they’re feeling. I endeavour to give my sculptures life.”
It’s a particularly apt ambition given that Giles draws inspiration “from being alive and observing things. I might be driving down a road and thinking about the white lines beneath the car and the person who painted them. Whatever you’re immersed in can influence your art.”
However, he warns, it’s vital not to think about it for too long. “It’s important to get it started and crack on with it.”
His workshop, he admits, is full of incomplete ideas. “There aren’t enough hours in the day,” he says. “The next thing always feels like it will be the best thing. You have this idea, and you make it, and it has a life of its own, but sometimes you look back at something you finished a while ago and can see how it could have been better.”
Surely perfectionism is an impossible ideal, though. “Maybe,” he agrees. “I’m always striving to tell the truth in the best and simplest way possible.”
I don’t think you can ask for more than that.
Find more of Giles’ work at www.gilespenny.co.uk.
Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.