FREE FLOW: Penny Siopis painting at the Maitland Institute as part of Open Studio/Open Form. Pictures: Mario Todeschin
FREE FLOW: Penny Siopis painting at the Maitland Institute as part of Open Studio/Open Form. Pictures: Mario Todeschin
Artist’s Profile: Penny Siopis At the “Meat Factory”, Maitland Institute

I was fortunate to meet with her at her current studio space to discuss her rationale and emotive expression that typify these paintings. There is a triptych that is triumphantly enormous, yet fits within the massive studio, a journey into a scale the artist is not accustomed to. Yet she embraces it and in turn it embraces her.

Siopis speaks about the significance of process. While concept is important, she welcomes the unpredictability of what she calls “materiality”. The process may have no beginning or end but the result is the art-object. She has method, an affinity with white, transparent drying cold glue, inks and these large canvases in many instances, yet she allows the materials to flow and interact and chemically collide to produce a final stable “narrative” within the parameters of the canvas surface.

On a deeper level, she relinquishes control, yet there is a sub cortical, relational play with the inanimate that challenges one’s free will to dictate, yet to give way, to shape and illustrate and allow the formless and unbounded - in a sense to lose oneself.

Integral to this approach is a reverence for gravity and the excitement of not knowing what route the painting will follow, as tributaries change and move over time to settle as an image. She spoke further about the use of other media, such as installation and video to convey her message, both of which also have a certain materiality. Like painting there is a kind of productive tension, a certain craft. Yet this is no light matter for as she explained and I somewhat concur, the “how” is often more important than the “what”.

In other words, the result is the kind of knowledge one may call tacit. It cannot be fully verbalised. Yet to my satisfaction, her academic pursuits may yet ground her practice in theory. In this sense, Siopis seems to be vexed by the Descartian tradition that separates mind and body.

What was also particularly refreshing is her willingness to share and demystify art as she has opened her studio to the public. Schools and other parties have visited and when Siopis concludes this exploration in July other high-profile artists will occupy the space at the Maitland Institute.I saw only one brush. The paintings never succumb to drawing. Colours match. There is no singular flat colour area. The canvas is not filled and exudes a quality; it often warps to the weight of the glue and ink. One’s eyes see it as totality - not as individual mimetic copies that make up a story, a subject-matter.

In a sense though the “abstract forms” are figurative. It also may be described as a feminine beauty and energy; the works have a flower-like sentimentality at times. This is not to say they are not also aggressive, confident, active, present and coherent. Indeed, they are.

Siopis has shown work with Stevenson Gallery, having found glue and ink (or this style) around 10 years ago. She seems to create (or co-create) paintings with an ease and play, a letting go, while yet setting the parameters, the conditions for the activity; this arena as Kevin Atkinson was wont to say. Thus this ritual takes place, wherein the body is part of a process. She says she plans to use oils and I am excited to see the outcome of that venture.