Penelope Kupfer: Hysterical Mum

Penelope Kupfer

Artwork’s Title: Hysterical Mum

Material Used: Oil on canvas

Studio Based: Leyton, UK

Penelope Kupfer, Hysterical Mum, Oil on canvas, 45 x 30 cm, 2021

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

I draw before everything. Drawing for me is a work in itself as well as starting to figure out a painting. Its quick and direct and enables me to access directly my emotions and thinking. It also serves as a warm up in which over thinking can be switched off and in a way pollinates the paintings. There is always an element of drawing in my paintings as well. I like the rawness of the line that divides the colour fields.

I work very fast and am always worried overdoing work. When I use ink on wet paper you have to be quick but the result is very satisfying and the loss of control when the material takes over and has its own agency.

I have always multiple things on the go, several canvases as well as different surfaces to experiment on. I use it as a note taking and inspiration. To work on many canvases at a time helps me with the decision making so I can move back and forth and feel less anxious or self aware, intimidated by the canvas.

I like to keep the drawings and paintings raw and open, it gives space to the viewer for interpretation and guides the eyes around certain parts of the work. I am very excited about a few gestures to give enough information to find something.

How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?

Raw, abstract but figurative, personal

Could you share with us some insights on your ‘Hysterical Mum’ painting? Is there any particular story behind this new work?

This painting is a good example of my attempt to reduce the information and try to solidify an emotional state into a painting. I am very interested in emotional states like hysteria and how to express it visually.

Its is a small painting the draws you in, the canvas holding only this moment of despair. Interestingly I have created it during lockdown when I had to homeschool my three children and was finishing my master. Its a punch, that was what I wanted to paint.

In your artistry, there is an evident female representation that dominates your recent body of work. Is this a current creative motif in your work or do your painting interests really concentrate on female issues that you’re aiming to express on canvas?

My work is very personal and I am very invested in the role of the female in society, past and present. I paint what concerns me and what is around me. Sometimes I like to keep myself at length and paint through people most of the time they are female. As a women it is easier for me to put myself  into the shoe of another female to understand through painting and mirror my feelings. Having said that recently I have been thinking of male hysteria, I am very intrigued by it as historically hysteria has been described to women.

In your bio statement, it is highlighted that your ‘paintings are an ode to domestic life. Despite often using bright colours, I am drawn to the darkness of the mundane. My domestic scenes are always on the brink of collapse. The female figure is often holding things by a thread’; could you elaborate on this please? Do your compositions reflect a form of a social criticism?

To hold things by a threat means there is a moment of catharsis which means a collapse but also a change of renewal. Continuous movement, a potential of transformation where nothing stands still like time.

The social criticism is inherently with my position as a woman painter and mother in society and in the art world.

Do specific artworks have been created by random experiments in your studio or do you usually come up with a particular concept or narrative in the very beginning of your artistic process?

I do a lot of random experiments which hang or stand around in my studio, its a by product when I work and they do function as discovery or inspiration. I get a lot out of happy accidents and the process in making work is as important to me as the final result. Those experiments probably will never leave my studio but I see them as part of the work like a stepping stone.

What would be the best way to exhibit your work?

Part of my practice is curation and I love site specific shows. I find inspiration in the space or vice versa, I can bring the work to a white cube. I am big fan of Daniel Birnbaum’s approach to showing work and collaborate with other disciplines. Recently I have been working on dinners and even included Yoga in showing work. I believe in our postmodern condition, there is a lot of interesting things to be done with curation.

Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

Like Phillip Guston says in his interviews, there are always many painters with you in the room!

Apart from the mostly male canonical artists, because of how art history has been told until recently, I am very inspired by Kaethe Kollwitz, Marlene Dumas, Paula Modersohn Becker and love the loose gouache work by Dana Schutz. Jana Euler is very interesting to me the way she works with layers of concepts in her work especially under the aspect of feminism and canonical painting. 

What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?

Its a mess, hahaha. I have a very busy mind and the studio reflects that. Its almost as my thoughts are turned outwards.

Which are your plans for the near future?

Two new bodies of work: A series on male hysteria and hidden mums based on my research on Hysteria and Victorian photographs.

I am working towards a solo show that will happen end of next year. I am also planning a group shows and a dialogue with a close painter friend. To be announced early next year!

Additional Paintings

Penelope Kupfer, Smoking Mum 3, Oil on canvas, 30 × 26 cm, 2022
Penelope Kupfer, Rest, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 51 × 66 × 4 cm, 2022
Penelope Kupfer, Smoking, Oil on paper, 44 x 64 cm, 2022
Penelope Kupfer, Indifference, Oil on canvas, 25.5 × 20.5 × 3 cm, 2022
Penelope Kupfer, Two Button Shirt, oil on canvas, 200x180cm, 2021


All images courtesy of the artist

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