Pioneering British artist Penny Slinger creates work in many mediums and is best known for her surreal dreamlike collages, photography and art performance. Slinger came to prominence in the 1960’s with her radical art and feminist perspective. Recently a film has been made about her work, trailer below, and you can see her work this month at the Anat Ebgi Gallery, Los Angeles in Worshipping Sticks and Stones which opens tomorrow until 8 December and at the Richard Saltoun Gallery stand at Paris Photo, 8-11 November 2018. Today Penny Slinger talks to WIA about her work and creative influences in our artist profile.
WIA: WHAT ARE YOU DOING TODAY?
Penny Slinger: I am working on answering the questions for an interview with WIA(!)
I am preparing a consignment for a gallery.
I am emailing and speaking with friends.
I am unpacking artworks from my vault.
I am envisioning a video I am about to work on.
I am about to drink tea.
WIA: TELL US ABOUT YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS.
PS: Art has been my chosen vocation since very young. I am always working on an art project. That is my raison d’etre. My process varies with the nature of the project and, as I have always had a very multi media approach, that process has many different facets. The main thing for me is that I am happy when I am manifesting, as then I feel that I am doing what I am on the planet to do.
In terms of process, the inspiration always comes first. That is the fuel that lights the fire behind every subsequent action. Techniques can vary to suit the nature of the work, but they are always the slaves of the inspiration. All happens in the mind sky, then it is just a question of what means, what media and techniques I have to ground the visions and bring them into reality.
When you work with any kind of media, that too is a relationship. From the dynamics of the relationship, things happen that you could never quite predict, so that is the other facet of the process.
WIA: DESCRIBE WHERE YOU DO MOST OF YOUR CREATIVE WORK.
In my consciousness! After that it is just a question of what I can pull through to the material plane.
Currently I have loft space in downtown LA with a photographic studio, an extra large printer, a couple of computers and space to make assemblages too.
I just returned from 6 months of traveling, mainly in SE Asia, and in that case I worked all the time on the road, taking photos for use in my collages, and working on digital collage on my computer, wherever I was. If I am able to be creating, it is not a big deal to me where I am. But to do the 3Dimensional assemblages and have access to all my materials, I like to have studio space to do that.
When I was living for the last 23 years in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Northern California, I built myself a large video/photography/audio studio on the property and did a lot of that kind of work there.
WIA: WHAT’S THE MOST EXCITING PROJECT YOU’VE WORKED ON?
PS: The current one! Seriously, whenever I am working on a project it consumes me and I live, dream, breath it. It is like a powerful love affair and every time I believe that what I am doing is the thing that can change the world…I think one needs to feel that in order to have the endurance and go the extra 9 yards that all big projects seem to draw from you. Giving 110% of yourself.
WIA: WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO BECOME AN ARTIST?
PS: I didn’t want to be bored. That’s a lot of it. I bore easily. I knew I wanted to be an artist from a very young age. As a child I spent a lot of time alone and that was my remedy for loneliness too. If you have creativity as a friend, you are never alone. And I had natural aptitude and talent. I guess we come in with these things, perhaps from past lives, but if you have these gifts, you feel you are meant to do something with them, meant to share them. That’s part of the deal.
I also always had such a very rich inner life, a fecund imagination and have always been gifted with inspiration. This makes one feel compelled to express it somehow, and learning the tools of the trade just goes along with the territory. For me I always loved all kinds of artistic expression, from dance, to music, movies, fashion as well as the visual arts. Doing ‘fine art’ seemed to be one of the most pure forms, less interpretive and more able to be rendered, censorship and interference free.
WIA: WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?
PS: For many years I have felt there was something that needed to be done about how elders in society, particularly women, are seen, both by themselves and by others. I felt society was in essence short changing itself by marginalizing and disempowering women past a certain age. Their wisdom and relevance are being culturally lost. I knew I wanted to do something about that.
Earlier in life I sought to empower women, not just in the political sense that the feminist movement of the time was doing, but in the way that feminine qualities would take pride of place in our culture, and that women would be able to own their own sensual and sexual selves. From there I sought to introduce the notion of sacred sexuality. Now I am tackling agism.
My current series is called ‘My Body’ and uses my body now as the template through which to express my experiences and reflections. At 70 years old, I am choosing to still use my naked body as my muse.
One facet of this work is entitled ‘The Alchemy of Stuff ‘. Here I use life casts of my body now in relation to many objects that I have associated with over the years in an attempt to establish a sense of what has value in our modern disposable culture.
I am also working on digital photo collages/montages. The first series I am manifesting are about my relationship with animals and all creatures of our planet, as I feel that relationship is critically important to re-establish for humanity at this time.
WIA: DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK, AND IF SO, WHAT’S YOUR SOUNDTRACK?
PS: It used to be important to me. Not so much now. I listen to my own inner music a lot of the time and the patterns of my thoughts.
WIA: WHAT ARE THE KEY THEMES IN YOUR WORK?
PS: In a nutshell, I am very interested in the nature of self, the role of the artist in society, the nature of the feminine, both secular and divine, the balancing of male and female energies within, and the Surreal juggling of the world as we know it into a self-created fabric of infinite potential.
WIA: WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE PEOPLE TO NOTICE IN YOUR WORK?
PS: I would like them to notice archetypal glyphs that speak directly to their own subconscious well of experience. I would like my pieces to be activators that trigger responses that are at once deeply personal and mythically universal. If art can’t touch beneath the surface and act like an enzyme on consciousness that evokes inner change, then what is the point of it? I would like people to notice that I am showing them something in a way they may not have perceived it before, but when they do, it lifts a veil and somehow feels more attuned than their preconceptions may have allowed. I want people to notice that my art opens up more space in their psyches, and more freedom, more potential, even if it shakes them up a bit.
WIA: WHAT ATTRACTS YOU TO THE MEDIUMS YOU WORK IN?
PS: There is something attractive in every medium, and I have tried quite a few! Each has its own discipline, its own practice associated with its use. Of course I have liked to blur boundaries and mix things together that had not been mixed before. Things have changed a lot since I came on the art scene. Now there is much more fluidity and people mixing everything together they can think of, but it wasn’t always like that.
I have only worked a little in film really, compared with what I would like to do. I love it as a medium because it has the potential to embrace many other media under its umbrella and, like music, it also uses time as one of its mediums. But I love photography and collage and painting etc. as these are all things one can do alone, without the need of any other assistance, and I really appreciate the independence of that. Each medium has, and is, its own meditation.
I also really enjoy co-creating, but it is good to have a strong root of what is only dependent on self-manifestation to come back to.
WIA: WHAT EQUIPMENT COULD YOU NOT DO WITHOUT?
PS: I like to think there is nothing outside myself that is not expendable. However I do really value the tool that is the camera. I do not see myself as a photographer as such, but one who uses photography as a piece of the process of creation. As I always have a huge back log of inspirations I am seeking to embody, the use of photography helps me realize things in a swifter fashion than if I were to paint them, for instance. And as I am not about representation as such – more about disruption – the purpose of the images I use is to bring them into new alignments, new relationships. So whatever the most efficient way to manifest these pieces of reality to play with them is my preference. The camera, still or moving, is a great way to capture these elements.
WIA: WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
PS: Life and the journey of the soul. All the ways we live lives that are less magical, less full of potential than they could be, is an inspiration to me to show something else. I am inspired by my own ability to ‘get out of the box’ as much as I am inspired by others who do so. I am inspired by nature. Most of all, I am inspired by spirit and by courage.
WIA: HOW DOES GENDER AFFECT YOUR WORK?
PS: When I was a student I always signed my name just ‘Slinger’ as I wanted my work to be judged on a par with male artists, who I perceived to have a lot more credibility and recognition than women artists.
As my own oeuvre quickly developed, I realized I wanted to make work that specifically addressed who I was, a woman artist trying to find her place in a man’s world. I soon perceived a gap in the history of art that I wanted to redress. I saw that women held a key position in art over the ages, particularly in the nude form, as the muse of the artist. But they were generally portrayed through the lens of the male artist and he was the creator of the work, not her. I decided I wanted to introduce a new paradigm, where I was my own muse, the seer and the seen. I wanted to be the one, as a woman, who portrayed the female form myself. My own creatrix.
When I discovered Surrealism I was so excited by the tools it offered to probe the subconscious and the way it allowed new realities to open up. I thought it provided an ideal way to approach the feminine psyche. Rather than just describing the appearance of a woman, this was a way to penetrate beneath the surface and show her inner being.
The other reflection on gender I would like to note is that sexism has created way too many boxes that men and women find themselves in. I perceived that we are all male and female within and that the act of creation is a way in which these two parts come together, make love and produce a pure gold baby – the work of art. Gender fluidity has always been part of my modus operandi.
WIA: WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE GALLERY, OR PLACE TO SEE OR EXPERIENCE ART?
PS: Probably in artist’s’ studios, where you not only see the art, you can interact with the artist and discover their process, and how they feel and think about what they do. I am also fascinated by the new immersive forms of media in which you can melt into the art and become one with it.
WIA: IF YOU COULD OWN ONE PIECE OF ART, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
PS: Well of course I would say I could own one of the great masterpieces so I could sell it and have enough money to never have to worry again about that! But if you are asking what would really mean the most to me, I would probably choose a magnificent Thanka painting as the spiritual richness in that would be the gift that would keep on giving. Those Tibetan paintings are generally not even signed by an artist, they are dedicated to the spiritual entity they are depicting. Each brushstroke is made with the repetition of the mantra (power phrase) which evokes the essence of that being and clears the mind of all useless chatter.
Many years ago I was at the house of a collector of Tibetan art and sat before a Thanka painting of male and female deities in union. Suddenly the whole image came alive and started dancing and shooting waves of energy to me. It was palpable and undeniable. That is what art of that caliber and intention is capable of.
WIA: IF YOU COULD COLLABORATE WITH ONE ARTIST, FROM ANY TIME, WHO WOULD IT BE, AND WHY?
PS: Well, not surprisingly, one of my all-time favorite artists is Frida Kahlo. But collaborate with her? I am not sure. The power of her work is much vested in her intense self-scrutiny, so what would she benefit from collaborating with me, or I with her?
I always fantasized about collaborating with the Surrealists, playing ‘Exquisite Corpse’ with them… But in reality, it was all pretty male-centric even then, so I probably would have been frustrated by being relegated to the role of a muse…
WIA: IS THERE AN ARTIST, MOVEMENT OR COLLECTIVE YOU’D LIKE TO SEE RE-EVALUATED, OR A CONTEMPORARY ARTIST WHO IS UNDERRATED?
PS: For a phase of my life I had a whole separate art career, different from the one I had established in the fine art world. It was when I was living in the Caribbean islands. At that time I created a body of work dedicated to the Arawak Indians, the indigenous inhabitants of the region. Their culture and art had been pretty much swept under the carpet of history. I wanted to resurrect them, to claim their right of pride of place, for their energy was still present and bonded with the land.
At this point in history, I sincerely believe that an understanding of the ways of indigenous peoples probably holds the only keys to the survival of humanity. This re-evaluation is not so much just to do with art, it is to do with humanity’s longevity.
WIA: WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE COLOUR?
PS: I would have to say sky blue pink. I say that because I was always told that was an impossible colour, a colour that did not exist, and that interested me to no end. Especially because I was sure it did exist. I saw it in many evenings as the sun set. It was real.
As an artist I don’t really think we can afford to have ‘favorite colours’, we need to be much more democratic in our view of the full spectrum. It is anyway not about individual colours, but in their association, relationships, that the aesthetic resides.
Saying that, sky blue pink as a symbol for manifesting the unmanifestable – and on a more down to earth note, I love red. It is the colour of the blood of life coursing through our veins. It is the color of shakti (feminine energy, power) and is very magnetic, attracting and passionate. I have often used in as a single colour in otherwise black and white compositions. I find the primal energy of red very alluring and undeniable.