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Artist Penny Goring: ‘David Bowie showed me there was another world’ | Sculpture

T.The floor beneath Penny Goring’s work table is awash with lint and scraps of scarlet cloth. Bits and pieces drag across the carpet in crimson swirls, as if her blood had leaked from her stabbed scissors and was seeping through her bedroom floor into the world beyond.

Meet her art: creepy soft doll-like sculptures; Paintings from a brutal dream world – it’s easy to create an image of Goring as an otherworldly creature snatched from a fairy tale. We meet on a rainy day in late spring, not in a haunted forest, but in the very real place of Surbiton Station. Walking in the rain as the buses whiz by, we talk about not being able to wear high heels anymore and about his time as an art student in London in the early 90s.

“When I close that door and I’m alone, the rest of the world disappears,” he tells me, sitting down at his small worktable over the blood tide of threads and scraps of fabric. “Everything I’ve done has been centered around feelings. It’s easier to communicate emotions by inventing forms that show how you feel. “His work is variously funny-sad, sexy-sad, comforting-sad, politically furious and excellently bizarre. There are his spirit-like objects of anxiety. , which bind and hinder the body, and the self-explanatory drawings of Extreme Naked Yoga.A series of beautiful storybook-like images of violently entangled women – the works of Amelia – are reminiscent of a mutually destructive relationship.

I was a visionary for Boudica (2015).  Digital collage.
I was a visionary for Boudica (2015). Digital collage. Photograph: courtesy of the artist and Arcadia Missa, London

Goring’s soft sculptures are meticulously crafted and hand-sewn. “I like work-intensive things that I do with care for long periods of time. Everything is sewn with this tiny needle, ”he tells me, pulling a sharp instrument from the belly of a bear stuffed with pins. “This teddy bear is always by my side: his name is Relapse Ted,” he says, replacing him. “I went to a treatment center in 2005 because I am recovering as an alcoholic.”

It’s the week before sculptures and paintings, old and new, are collected from Goring’s apartment and delivered to the ICA in London for the installation of Penny World, a 30-year-old survey exhibit. You might read that title as Penny v World, “because I don’t feel comfortable in this world,” he says. But also as a play on Poundland: “Everything I make uses materials that I can afford and I have a very limited budget”.

He leans on this poverty of means, using food dyes, markers and fabrics from old clothes. The heavy-looking golden plague doll covered with breast-like bubbles is made of stretchy fabric rather than cast bronze: “I couldn’t afford it,” she says. “I just want to do things I can do in my room, without anyone else’s help. I like to think I’m cunningly fooling big guys and big gestures, because it might be monumental but it’s golden spandex.

Relapse Ted.
Relapse Ted. Director of photography: Linda Nylind / The Guardian

His wraparound environment for the ICA includes linoleum floors (“I grew up with tight linoleum because mom and dad couldn’t afford a snug rug”), simple magnolia murals, and 70s-style bubble lettering captions.

Before the show, Goring’s house is unusually padded. He hung some works on the walls for me to see. The scarlet hell doll hangs above her bed, her arms cut off to butts, a black heart like a void where her face should be, and long curls like tentacles or flames for legs. Other sculptures lie on shelves, mummified in layers of cellophane against moths and dust. In the hallway (but not the show) is a huge print of an image posted on Goring’s cult Tumblr feed in 2015. A model in green fur sits with her legs apart, her head hidden by a rough cutout of the face of Goring. The lines “pragmatic vagina / romantic clitoris” hover over the surface.

'It is difficult to live with them, I will be happy when they are not there' ... Goring and one of his dolls.
‘It’s hard to live with them, I’ll be happy when they’re not there’ … Goring and one of his dolls. Director of photography: Linda Nylind / The Guardian

Raised as a geek “in a really rough area in South East London”, Goring has become an “expert truant”. His savior was David Bowie. She joined his fan club at the age of nine and saw him play at Earl’s Court when he was 10: “It showed me there was another world, apart from this tough and scary place I used to come to. beaten and told me I was a monster. “

Arriving at Kingston Art School in the late 1920s, she discovered artists who explored awkward and overwhelming feelings. “Frida Kahlo: she was like my gateway drug,” says Goring. From there she found Eva Hesse. Then Louise Bourgeois: “you are very close to my heart. I feel such an affinity with her work ”. A stack of neat student notebooks is stacked on the windowsill. Goring invites me to explore them. The germs of her current work are already evident. The title – Penny World – also appears.

Goring hasn’t taken a conventional path (if such a thing exists) in the art world. He is not comfortable with face-to-face meetings. (Those swirling legs on the hell doll? She panics, melting her feet and ankles in useless jelly.) Despite the support of tutors, including painter Peter Doig, she was not given a place on a master’s degree program. after art school. “I’ve always been very shy and had a lack of self-confidence, and by the end of my senior year I was drinking pretty heavily,” she says. “I just resigned myself, quite happily in the end. However, I made peace by continuing to do my job “.

But buying a computer for his daughter’s homework in 2009 introduced Goring to the participatory culture of web 2.0: a way to make his work public in private. What came out was not the images but the words. “While I was painting, I kept hearing huge swarms of words invade my head. I kept trying to ignore them and they wouldn’t leave. “For six months” they piled up and got stronger. Just torrents of stories. I sat down and started writing them. “

Those who live without torment (Red 4), 2020.
Those who live without torment (Red 4), 2020. Photograph: courtesy of the artist and Arcadia Missa, London

He posted snippets of text on Twitter that other writers have identified as poetry. Goring was welcomed by the online writing community, first joining the Year Zero Writers collective, then falling into the more edgy, tiny, shaky, self-fictional world of the “alt-lit” movement. Here Goring encountered “a completely new way of writing and communicating”. Alt-lit “used Facebook like a poem. Everything was poetry ». He has engaged with the visual realm again, combining text with found images, making videos and gifs. “It wasn’t until the scene was over that we realized we were part of a huge, sprawling universe called Weird Facebook – we were this little corner of poetry.”

Thus, it is through the written word that Goring reentered the art world. A video in which he reads his 2013 poem Fear (“I’m afraid I’m not getting what I’m afraid I want. / I’m afraid what I want. / I’m afraid I’m not getting what I need, let alone wanting. / I’m afraid of loneliness, drunk defeat, drugged. / I’m afraid of arthritis … “) was selected by curator Rózsa Farkas for a group exhibition at the ICA. After seeing his paintings and sculptures, Farkas continued to support Goring through the its new commercial gallery, Arcadia Missa.

In conjunction with Penny World, Arcadia Missa publishes two volumes of Goring’s writings: the Fail Like Fire poetry collection and a 2016 text, Headfuck the Reader. “He changed my life,” Goring says of Farkas. “I felt I was not elegant enough to be part of the art world. It helped me understand that it was something to let go. Because sometimes you can carry your baggage around for too long, if you don’t look into your mental processes and don’t detect where things are coming from.

Truly (Art Hell), 2019.
Truly (Art Hell), 2019. Photograph: courtesy of the artist and Arcadia Missa, London

I ask how it feels to live surrounded by one’s work: every doll or painting apparently testifies to an emotional evisceration. “It is difficult to live with them, after all, it is the simple answer”, he decides reflecting. “Great dolls, I’ll be happy when they’re not there.” However, it can hurt to let things go. She describes feeling “pang” when Farkas recently sold a favorite design.

Goring has mixed feelings about participating in the brutal public arena of the commercial art world. There is a series of designs significantly titled Art Hells. “I don’t think about an audience when I’m doing,” he says. If he imagines “people to please, impress or entertain, my mind goes blank, I feel really embarrassed and I can’t create anything worth doing”.

However, it is also a source of sincere joy: after decades of precarious life, she can support herself and her daughter through art and poetry. “To think that all the weird things I’ve done all my life now can be the way I make a living is very weird. It’s like a revelation. “

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