I'm Penny and I hand cut extremely detailed and occasionally mind-boggling tiny stencils with my bare hands ... and a scalpel.
In the Beginning...
The first stencil I cut was in 2001 when I was at Central Saint Martins doing a graphic design degree. I was so poor at the time that whenever we got a project I would always try to work out the cheapest possible way to do it… most of the time that meant making my course work out of paper, masking tape and found items. That was usually nothing more exciting than cardboard boxes, scrap wood or defunct machinery that I found in skips. I was like an East London Womble trying to recycle rubbish in creative ways, it was a bit ridiculous! A break though moment happened when I found a few cans of car paint in a cupboard under the stairs in my flat and thought to myself, “That’s gonna save money on printing costs!” I started to use stencilling for almost every single project after that. I started off by cutting text for large format posters until I eventually cut much smaller type and from there went on to cut stencils for pictures. It was very limited at the time and I learnt as I went along, making mistakes and correcting them, thinking up new techniques for specific problems. That was the fun and the beauty of it — I loved the limitations, the limitations gave me a kind of freedom. I know that sounds like an oxymoron but having to find a solution to a visual brief with a limited palette of materials was very exciting. Each project brought new challenges and I tried to find a way to push myself with each stencil by making it more complicated or more detailed, or much smaller, I was always trying to improve from the last stencil. It has taken me on a journey that I’m still on today.
Painting on money, for me, has a parallel with painting in the street — in the minds of some it’s destroying something, ruining a perfectly decent surface, bringing down the tone of an area. For others it’s about transforming something redundant into something beautiful, or at the very least intriguing, something to start a conversation, make people stop and think for a second. I think it’s that feeling of taboo, that it isn’t legal. They both have that in common. In the same way that the street piece "Beaten City" was utilised as a background to give context to an image, it also inspired the image in the first place. People have a constant love/hate relationship with money; it signifies so many things about nations and their past that it’s such a rich source of inspiration for me. It’s like having walls throughout history at your fingertips, ready and waiting to be sprayed.
I like to paint images on substrates that provide an interesting context for my images and I have really enjoyed using taxidermy butterflies in my work — they are so beautiful, so perfectly symmetrical and delicate, but they have a haunting quality too because they are dead. You may have heard of the expression ‘dead behind the eyes’ and that gave me the idea of actually putting something ‘dead’ behind the ‘eyes’… something dead and beautiful. They have evolutionary traits that are paramount for their survival: They are bright, colourful and have distinctive markings to attract mates and also use the same elements to ward off predators or use as camouflage. They are such an amazing example of being a product of their environment, such visually engaging creatures.