FORME Magazine talks with maker, mother, mate and friend Toby Penney about inspiration and the art of creation. 

Penney_An Impassioned Plea_mixedmedia with reclaimed fabric on canvas_66x54 inches copy

In every aspect of life I work with what I have to be the best I can at every role I assume. The images and objects that come from my heart and hand include every part of me and part of everyone I come in contact with. Reclaiming memories and layering them with paint, fabric, drawing, and emotion is my general mode of operation.

How would you describe your works of art? 

My works are a collection of moments gathered together, scrambled, and pushed onto the substrate until they make sense. I’ve always considered my work a bit of a visual journal, a catalogue of events but, really they are more than that. They are also a visual representation of what I want to happen. These pieces are a place to solve problems and make sense of what is inside me as well as those around me, a place to work through relationship issues, dream, set goals, and make a plan. I consider each piece completed a small win and a great moment. I figure that if a painting is successful enough to feel complete, then I must have learned something. With knowledge comes confidence and a sense of security.

Penney_Looking for Tuesday_mixedmedia with reclaimed fabric on canvas_72x48 inches copy


I never really feel inspired. I am more compelled to create than anything else. Inspiration implies an outside force making a decision to gift me a creative moment. It also dismisses hard work with the implication that the artist is not really in control of the work or when it can be created. Truly impressive images are developed over time through persistence and hard work.

Penney_SelfPortrait1014_mixed meddi photo collage

My methodology is consistent with each medium I choose. I hate to waste time so I work on several pieces at a time. Usually there are 3-4 larger paintings in the works along with about as many 3d pieces and reclaimed fabric collages that I am actively pursuing. As one piece is curing, I move on to the next. This way I always have something fresh to respond to. This process is the same with photography. I am always collecting images, documenting my daily life. I use these images to build history and texture with multiple exposures techniques. My goal is often to convey the excitement of that fresh feeling at the same time making the history of the work available with the layers that I build.
Katie F-1

What kind of materials do you like working with and why?

It has always been important to me to incorporate reclaimed materials into the pieces that I produce. It is one way to combat the seduction of consumerism while I offer new life to objects and materials past their prime. Drawing is also an element that can be found in any image or object that I create. Basic mark making reaches us on a primal level and displays our humanity.

My paintings are a physical manifestation of my emotional response to the world around me. I am working with what is available to me. Physically I am working with many recycled and reclaimed materials and textures. Emotionally I am responding, reliving and growing from events in my life through painting and drawing. Colour is often the most memorable impression that I keep from an event. The memory of colour is often what drives the start of a new image. Rarely do I have a favourite painting. If pushed to choose, I would say it is the next painting that I create. The anticipation of what happens next is always exciting.

Penney_The Face of Yesteryear_mixedmedia with reclaimed fabric on canvas_120x90inches copy
Do you feel that art is subjective? Or are you conveying a specific message or emotion to the viewer? 

Art is absolutely subjective. At the same time, I most often have a specific moment and emotion that I am responding to in the work. Everyone in my audience has a personal history that he/she carries along. Because of individual histories I am open to and excited by the idea that each viewer can respond to my work in a unique way.


Currently I am developing a series of work in both paint and photography to show in Atlanta during the fall of 2016. Primarily these images are centered on daily interactions with my daughter as we experience each other and facilitate life and learning for each other. Also at this time I am working on raising funds to relocate my studio to China for a year and bring to life a series of works that are currently living in my head.

Interview: Kathleen Cerrer  Words & Images: Toby Penney




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