Penelope Przekop initially caught our eye through her use of colour. She is bold, brash and uncompromising with her compositions and paints with a strong sense of expression that goes beyond just aesthetics.
From the provocative titles and style of each painting it was clear that Penelope would have some interesting things to say about her artwork.
For that reason we got in contact with her to see if she’d like to answer a few questions and give us an insight into the complexity of her creations, as well as the woman behind them.
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As an accomplished novelist, would you say your paintings are an extension to your act of storytelling?
Yes! I have always considered myself a writer at heart. I have felt compelled to write my entire life. In my early twenties, I began working on my first novel and continued that for many years.
As a kid, I wasn’t interested in drawing; however, I was drawn to colour and composition. I spent hours colouring with crayons and markers. I was also drawn to the composition perspective and was interested in fashion photography. Then in my late thirties I began to have an odd urge to paint. So in 2008, I finally picked up a paintbrush.
As I developed my painting skills and identified what I wanted to paint, my style naturally evolved into one having many storytelling elements. Like Frida Kahlo, I have painted my own life. We all have complex stories; those stories are basically the product of our lives. They are filled with all the decisions we’ve made and all those that were made for us.
I see a deep connection between my art process and my life process, and want to share that with others. When I begin, I create a sort of mess and then layer by layer, I work on finding something beautiful in it.
There are definitely some darker tones to your work. Can you elaborate on these? Is the subject is searching for a sense of identity, perhaps?
You are correct in your interpretation. I grew up in an emotional whirlwind created by my mother, who has struggled with various mental illness issues her entire adult life. As a very small child, my entire existence was to please her. Perhaps all children feel that way, but for me, it was so extreme that I was a bit stunted in my own development. I wanted to make her happy. As you can imagine, it’s a long story. Bottom line, by the time I hit puberty and became self-aware, I couldn’t find my “self.” All I could find was my mother.
Although I was a personable, smart kid, this led me through a long, confusing maze to where I am today. It took many years to find my way out.
However, I never gave up and went on to build a life with my husband, earned two degrees, wrote five books, and more.
So yes, this is what you see in many of my images. I have felt compelled in both my writing and art to be honest, to paint what is in my deepest emotional repository.
This has been healing for me and I hope that it can also be for those who relate. I love to create visually beautiful images that reflect a search for identity. If we can understand the beauty in those dark moments, we can know that hope is also there.
A lot of your paintings include women, what role does female identity play in your work?
I naturally feel compelled to paint women simply because I am a woman. With that said, I believe that although there are biological differences between men and women, we are all emotionally similar.
I have painted some men and hope to do more; however, I also love to paint women due to my interest and love of fashion photography. When I was about 14 I began to get Seventeen magazine. I literally studied every image and read every single word in each monthly edition. The fashion images were incredibly visually stimulating to me. At the time, I thought it was because I wanted to look like the girls in the photos and that I wanted to be fashionable. That was true; however, now I realize that it was my innate interest in visual composition. I’m still fascinated by fashion photography; it always inspires my work from a visual perspective.
Your colour palette is incredibly diverse and experimental, you seem to love exploring textures and layering. How do you go about choosing materials and colour schemes? And how do you think they function in cohesion with your work?
My choice of colour palette for each work is quite intuitive. I don’t spend a lot of time deciding what colours to choose. I just go with my instincts and make it work. I realize that colour theorists may not like some of my choices but I don’t worry about that. I choose colours based on how they make me feel in relation to a particular piece.
Your works can be very abstract. Do you plan a painting before you start or begin and improvise as you go?
I do not plan out my paintings before I begin. I do, however, often have a general theme or central figure in mind when I begin. With that said, I allow myself to change my mind during the process if doing so feels right. I never draw anything out before starting. All of the shapes in my work are sketched with my fingers are a paint brush. I prefer this because I love that the process of my art imitates life. For example, if you planned out your life at the beginning in extreme detail and then began to “paint it in”, it would inevitably fail. Life just isn’t like that. We can certainly have goals in mind and a good idea of what we want but there are too many unknowns in life to expect that a detailed plan at the beginning is actually going to work out perfectly. One of the keys to creating a happy, high quality life, is to understand that concept and figure out how to make it work. How to create something beautiful out of what at times looks like a mess. I believe it’s possible in life and in art.
Are you inspired by any particular artists?
Some of my favourites are Frida Kahlo, Van Gogh, Dorothea Tanning, and Egon Schiele.
Which is your most personal work and why?
This is a tough question. Most of them are truly very personal; I don’t think I can choose just one. Some that are my most personal may not be the most popular. “What’s Wrong with Me?” is probably one of them.
This piece is about me as a young girl. I felt so lost and lonely although it may have appeared as if I had it all together. I was so heartbroken. I was looking for love in all the wrong places, feeling unloved yet breaking hearts right and left. I knew something was wrong with me but didn’t understand it.
What do you hope the viewer will get from your work? How would you say you try to communicate with them?
I hope people look at my work and ask questions. I hope they are moved toward introspection. I don’t want them to be sad but I want them to feel seen and recognized in some way that’s important to them. But no matter what, I want people to see the beauty in the mess, the beauty in the journey. I’d like them to consider how that might apply to their own lives. I want them to feel something important
All of Penelope’s work is available to view on Artspan here.
You can also head over to her business, Przekop Design Company: https://przekop.co/