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Taking Shape: Penelope Kupfer

Abstract painting
Abstract painting
Serpent, Penelope Kupfer
Written by
Teleri Lloyd-Jones
Published date
20 May 2019

Our graduating students share the process behind their practice. Here, Penelope Kupfer links together the death of painting, Daniel Buren and her plans for a snake priest.

Graduating from BA Fine Art, Penelope Kupfer presents an installation of paintings and tape interventions to create the space for an open belief system. Kupfer is nominated for this year's NOVA Awards.

Abstract painting
Serpent, Penelope Kupfer
The Question of Painting

I have been looking at painting; where has it come from and where it’s going to. Painting has been killed and resurrected so many times. The more people try to kill it, the more it lives. And each time it survives, there’s a new tension and it’s even more interesting than it was before.

Daniel Buren and space

Minimalist artist Daniel Buren argues that a work produced in a space (such as the artist’s studio) moved to a different space (such as the gallery) leaves behind an intrinsic part of its own nature. As soon as you take it outside of the studio it loses its aura. But that’s completely contrary to what I believe. What I had for breakfast, how I woke up, how I get to the studio, the place the work sits, the kinds of tools used, it’s all in the painting. I’m interested in everything that circulates around the painting.

For the degree show, I focused on connecting to the exhibition space, my work is installed on the third floor in the main atrium really close to the transparent roof. My idea was to create a temple; the paintings represent a frieze like in a temple or a church. I’ve chosen to use the architecture of Central Saint Martins to bring an audience together under the sky.

Work in progress

The Serpent

The visual connection across my degree show work is the serpent, a symbol for universalism. It can be anything, good, bad, death or resurrection. It’s an openness like the sky. I don’t want to explain all the meanings because it needs to remain open. I need to let people look, think and make their own decisions.

Originally, I had a table full of things and I had planned a performance of a snake priest to make connection with the network. I was thinking about how far can I go to create a belief system, what are the ingredients. But I stepped back and realised that it’s already a temple I don’t need all these other things, it just needs people gathering.


I have been working with organic materials like rabbit skin glue and cow bone. I have also been inspired by the tradition of canvas-making and its processes as a way of including the weight of history in a world where the convenience of the readily available makes everything seems redundant. At the same time, the extreme opposite also attracts me, materials such as acrylic, resin and plastic, resistant to the end of times and perceived as sources of pollution. So my work proposes a dialogue between the different types of eternities – a material one (the plastic) and a cultural one (the canvas-making tradition).

Abstract painting
The devil in the sky, Penelope Kupfer
Art as hidden object

If you look at the artworld and the system which is pretty fucked up. Artists produce work, they get photographed and the image gets put in a pdf, the pdf is emailed around the world for someone to choose and buy and then it gets resold, it speculates and accumulates. The piece remains in storage and never sees sunlight. I find it hard to think of it as just a painting because it’s always within a network, it must always be connected.

Feminist Lens

I want painting to reflect how artists are embedded in these networks drawing connections between painting and a related spatial and social concept. I like this idea of “productive mimesis” meaning that if you interpret something imbued with particular nuances it creates new meanings that are potentially spaces free from the strong male connotations of the traditional cannons of art history and philosophy. The network has a potential for collaborative practices; that sense of "together we are stronger" especially in a suppressed environment where women find themselves, especially in painting with its white male-dominated history.

Penelope Kupfer's work can be see in Show One: Art, 22-26 May, at Central Saint Martins.

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