Penny McCarthy works primarily with drawing and text. After studying Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University, Penny began her career as a Henry Moore Fellow in Drawing. Her work is presented internationally in a variety of contexts: in museums and galleries, at conferences, and as live projects and publications. She has received grants from the Henry Moore Foundation, Wellcome Trust, Arts Council England and Arts and Humanities Research Council. Her projects have been shown in Ulysse(s): L’autre mer, at the FRAC, Rennes, France, Nothing is Forever, South London Gallery, and On The Image at Venice International University, San Servolo, Venice (2017). Her picture essay Time will darken paper was commissioned for Esopus (New York) issue 21. An illustrated essay Mirror, is included in Memories of the Future (eds. Deborah Jaffe and Stephen Wilson, 2017). Her DNA drawings were exhibited in Liquid Crystal Display, shown at Site Gallery, Sheffield and MIMA in 2018. Macchia, a digital index of works, is accessible online. Beware the Cat, a collaborative research project for theatre, toured venues including the RSC in 2017-19.

Penny was awarded the Evelyn Williams Drawing Prize at the Trinity Wharf Drawing Prize in 2019. As part of this award, a new solo exhibition will take place at Hastings Contemporary in 2021.

Penny lives and works in Sheffield (UK) where she is a Reader in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University. In her teaching role at SHU, she leads the MFA Fine Art course, alongside PhD supervision in Art and Design.

A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

Central to Penny’s work is an interest in understanding images through exacting slowness and concentrated observation. In each work she returns to the same image time and again to attend to its visual and material characteristics. Penny’s studio practice is shaped by wide reading; her interest is in the fragment and the odd fact, drawn from deep banks of knowledge in text books, encyclopedias and archives. While in some ways the practice of reading can be seen as a series of footnotes appended to the final works, the making of each work involves an exhaustive process of drawing, re-drawing and re-constructing.

Penny’s academic research examines the viewer’s experience of an ‘original’, authentic artefact through consideration of Walter Benjamin’s work on ‘aura’. Her work often involves replication of ‘original’ images, texts or digital documents from archives through graphite pencil drawing. These painstaking replications have something in common with copied medieval manuscripts, becoming a new ‘authentic’ thing as well as a copy. The frailty and unreliability of the hand-made processes creates a new image object that reflects its relationship with the original artefact, while emphasizing a sense of ontological uncertainty.

All work by Penny McCarthy


© Penny McCarthy

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