We talk with illustrator Ian Penney who discusses his new show Crossing Over
The Rebecca Hossack Gallery features the work of Ian Penney. For more than 20 years he worked as a freelance illustrator mainly in children’s publishing. Creating titles such as The National Trust Book of Nursery Rhymes, A Noteworthy Tale and A Shop Full of Kittens, which he both wrote and illustrated. Ian is now focusing on his work as a paper-cut artist, creating works which mirror his fascination with pattern, composition and the graphic image. These paper-cuts deal with the ephemeral, whimsical and beautiful, through imagery reflecting the natural world and our human interaction with it.
I love the name of your new show called Crossing Over. The image is so powerful, tell me more about it.
I called the show “Crossing Over” because this will be my first trip across the Atlantic, in fact my first journey outside Europe. With the starting point of crossing the Atlantic all the other forms of crossing over grew in my mind, from a fallen tree in the forest to a spy plane crossing on the edge of the atmosphere.
The actual image “Crossing Over” focuses on the links between Britain and the United States from the obvious physical links of aircraft and boats to the characters of Uncle Sam and John Bull greeting each other, to the red white and blue of the two flags. Then there are of course the trans-Atlantic whales and fish which exist oblivious to the man-made distinctions between the two sides. On top of all this symbolism I could not resist including an oarsman, a swimmer and a very well hidden submarine.
Your work is so detailed and intricate. How did you come up with the technique and the patience to do it?
My work has always been complex and painstaking, I guess it’s just the way I see the world, I love pattern and balanced, considered use of space. Oh dear that makes my pictures sound really dry! I hope they also have whimsy and fancy. The art of paper cutting is a very old one going right back to ancient China, and I had always been interested in it, initially as small handmade greetings cards for my family, then I saw their potential to make bigger and bigger pieces. As for patience? I just love making these things. I sit on my own, well not quite, my dog Nellie is usually there at my feet and I can’t think of anything better than spending a whole day cutting the tiniest holes in paper till an image appears, like magic.
What is your fascination or curiosity for the airships, in particular The Lindy Hop about Charles Lindbergh?
I chose to make cut-outs of those airships and aeroplanes that first dared to take on the Atlantic because of the romance, bravery and adventure those flights represent. I love the imagery of that period between 1900 and 1940, the clothes, the art, the technology, everything was new and everything seemed possible. The whole period can be summed up in the person of Charles Lindbergh. A tall handsome man who (dressed in those fabulous jodhpurs) flew all alone against the might of the Atlantic in a plane he could not even see out of. A man who had fame thrust upon him and eventually saw tragedy as indeed did the first half of the 20th century for everyone.
You illustrate children’s books. How did you get started doing that and why?
I trained as an illustrator and it was my first love, but I rather ran out of steam and I think my style of painting slipped from fashion. I am now concentrating entirely on my paper cuts and trying to find new ways of getting them reproduced and used. I have not quite lost my first love though as I am working on some new ideas for a book, which will be illustrated with paper cuts.
Your use of paper is remarkable. Why paper?
I love using paper. It’s the most simple material, we see it and use it every day but it is so versatile and remarkable. I use coloured papers of just the right weight that it will cut and curl so very slightly and I mount the pieces just off the surface so they have a delicate shadow. You would not believe how excited I get when I find a new paper!
What’s next for you as an artist and illustrator?
As I mentioned I am working on some book ideas which are in the background, while I concentrate on producing new pieces for The Rebecca Hossack Gallery. Rebecca has given me this opportunity of my first solo show in New York and I have had two solo shows at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery in London. Rebecca also takes my work all around the world to art fairs and exhibitions.
You live in a wonderful part of England. Does that inspire your work and why?
I do live in a very beautiful part of England, just a few miles from the sea. From my studio window I can see fields and sheep and purple woodland. The landscape is always inspirational; the patterns of the fields, the gradation of stones on the beach and the delicate filigree of dappled sunlight through the trees. It all makes me think “that would make a great paper cut.”
What artists have influenced you and sparked ideas in your own work?
I am influenced by many artists and on a different day I may give you a different list, but I always come back to those that use space and pattern to tell a story. Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry and early Renaissance painters like Piero Della Francesca are wonderful examples of how to deal with scale, perspective, and focus. William Morris is a master of pattern and shape, and when thinking about composition I always turn to Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth. My ideas for subject matter just come from my eclectic brain, which seems to store up ideas from absolutely anywhere.
Ian Penney: Crossing Over runs from February 6 – March 1, 2013 at Rebecca Hossack Gallery. For more information, please visit www.r-h-g.co.uk/exhibitions/view/ian_penney_crossing_over/294,0.html.