Penn Gregory, contemporary mixed media & textile artist, maker of things, maximalist, idea magpie
Hope: Penn Gregory, hello! Tell me about the role that creativity plays in your daily life. Did you study art formally, or are you self-taught?
Penn: From the very beginning, art’s been a big part of my life. When I was very small, I loved sewing, drawing and painting. If I was bored as a little kid, I would go and make something. When we moved into the house where I grew up, there was a dolls house left behind. I painted the little walls, I made furniture – I was just always making things. Now I’m in the grown-up version of that and I make all the things for my big house. I think both my parents were frustrated creatives, so to them it was the natural thing to do. If you want something, you can make it, can’t you? I always wanted to go to art school but I couldn’t fit it into my life until I was nearly 40. When I went to the interview, I took what seemed like a random collection of things that I’d made. One was a watercolour that I’d altered in Photoshop and when the tutor suggested adding embroidery, it blew my mind. Bringing in an entirely different medium, like stitching onto a 2D painting! It opened doors in my mind and I thought, now I can transfer that to everything. Everything’s possible.
HF: What drew you to the to the Tiny Book Collaboration? I think we were involved in the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook project simultaneously. Is there a connection?
PG: I loved the sketchbook project, and I’m sad that it’s not going anymore. I loved the idea of having something I’d made being part of a bigger collection. When The Tiny Book Collaboration came along, it was the meeting of two worlds that I adore. I love sketchbooks, and I love tiny things. It’s like going into a little dream world working tiny. I love the fact that you’ve made a library – it’s like an Alice in Wonderland project in a suitcase. Working within fixed parameters is good for creativity and there’s something magical about working small. You’re getting the real essence of something. You’ve got the edited version. I like making big, splashy, messy paintings and what I love even more is cutting them up into small pieces and making collages out of little fragments.
HF: You sell papers for collaging in your Etsy shop. Is this related?
PG: Yeah, a side effect of making big art and cutting it down is I have a lot of excess paper. Instagram is my main online jam and the thing I get the most joy from is when people comment and say something has inspired them and given them a starting point. When I see a photo and think yes, that’s it, I’m inspired with a starting point and back in my studio, back in the zone, it’s great. What I would like to do is be a person who can instigate that spinning off into creativity for someone else. Whether it’s through stuff I share online or materials that I can offer – that makes me so happy.
HF: You often use spirals in your work. Why is that?
PG: The spiral is my favorite metaphor. I remember vividly the first time I went to Cyprus, and driving up a mountain, on a spiral road. Each time we turned a corner, the view took my breath away. We’d spiral up and around another corner and see the previous view plus another layer. It felt like a metaphor for life – each time you come back around to something, you’ve got a bigger picture. Sometimes the bigger picture is frustrating with a journey because you can’t see – if you’re in the part where you’re surrounded by forest, you still have to trust the process. It’s like tree rings. I think of our journey starting off as a seed and each year is another circuit around that initial essence of being.
HF: On your website, you describe yourself as a textile and mixed media artist. You mentioned photoshop earlier. Could you talk about the connections between these forms of art?
PG: I love digital art. I love using Photoshop and Procreate because I can step back and go off on a tangent. I had a phase of only using Photoshop for a while because of space constraints for maybe four or five years. I rediscovered messy art hands on art when I went back to art school. I had pictures printed that I’d done digitally and it was like, well, why don’t you paint on it? Why don’t you sew on it? Why don’t you screen print over it? I’ve recently reversed it by taking something made physically and editing it digitally in a new ‘zine I’m working on. I’m using characters from my sketchbooks and bringing them into a separate little world on paper. I’m hoping to finish it by the end of this year.
HF: Have you got a top tip you’d like to share?
PG: One thing I find hugely valuable is letting work rest. If I make something and don’t know what direction it wants to go in, it gets set aside. Periodically when I’m looking for something, I remember I have these things to go to. I was inspired by Tammi Salas, who has two boxes – one is labelled “not so good” and the other is labelled “not so bad”. You don’t even have to have good work and bad work! I will rummage through when I want a new ingredient. I don’t know what I was aiming at with it before, but that doesn’t matter, because now it’s a new thing and I can find a space for it in a sketchbook spread or a mixed media painting. Everything is possible.
Where to find Penn Gregory:
Etsy: For postcards, stickers & zines Visit MadeByMixy