Interview With Liz Penizeva

Liz Peniazeva is a Sydney based artist working out of the Inner West. Interested in analysing and reconstructing ideas relating to women and their bodies, she seeks to re-configure notions of gender, domesticity and sexuality. After completing her BVA (Painting) at Sydney College of the Arts in 2014, Liz has since forayed into analogue collage - a medium she views as often misrepresented.

Collecting and working with vintage ephemera, Liz re-purposes archaic representations of women into scenes she considers contemporary and relevant.

Do you have any contemporary visual influences?
In regards to my practice, I can't say that I do! Surely indirectly or subconsciously, but I don’t actively seek external influence or visual reference. This is probably because my process is quite internal, organic and relies on chance and intuition. I have no plan, no objective and essentially no idea what the end result will be until about two thirds of the way through. I create on a whim, in the vein of ‘Auto-collage’, influenced by the irreplaceable and random selection of imagery before me. I'm simply driven by the forms and lines of the imagery and how I can integrate it all together in an organic and beautiful way.

During your time at SCA, what drew you to collage?
I got serious about collage in my final year at SCA in 2014, just before my graduation show. My first year teacher (and phenomenal contemporary artist), Emily Hunt, opened my eyes to the possibilities of collage and encouraged me to continue, so I’m indebted to Emily for introducing me to the marvels of collage. Additionally, for years I’d been a huge collector and admirer of antiques, relics and collectables. So when I craved relief from painting, I turned to all these beautiful vintage books and magazines I’d been hoarding for inspiration, only to find myself hacking them up. So I sort of fell into it as a relief from painting, discovering collage to be capable of expressing more than I could with my paintbrush. I often refer to my process as 'painting with paper' which I personally feel is the most accurate description of what I do.

Why do you think analogue collage is a more appealing process to you than digital?
I’ve always been really practical in my approach to art and although I love digital collage, I can’t see myself going down that path. There’s something so powerful in physically handling paper imbued with history- the touch of the finish, the thickness, the ink, the smell... Working with vintage ephemera means that most of the material has been printed through the offset printing process, in which the stock is heavily saturated in rich inks- a work of art in itself in my view.

There is magic in exposing images that would otherwise be trapped in closed books, giving them a second life and opportunity to be appreciated within a contemporary context. On the other hand, there’s a paradox that ensues the hesitation or guilt of cutting into a beautiful piece of paper- only in this destruction of the original image can collage art exist. You just don't experience this if you're working digitally.

I love being restricted to a single copy of an image and a fixed size - as opposed to digital collage in which duplication and resizing is possible. These limitations of analogue collage inspire innovation and is what makes my process feel like an exercise of the brain. Collaging digitally doesn’t take me in that there’s no challenge to conquer and there’s no strategy to devise in making things fit. It’s just a completely different way of working.

What kind of comment do you think you’re making with the cutting, pasting and rearrangement of women’s virtual bodies?
I deconstruct and re-build environments around women’s bodies, plucking them from their original context of adornment of the male gaze and injecting them into otherworldly landscapes. Analogue collage is all about re-contextualisation and that’s the skeleton of my comment. I’d like for viewers to see the female body differently to what they’re familiar with or expect. The female subjects in my collages reinstate their sexual and personal identities. They exist in scenes made up of imagery commonly associated with women (as well as elements from nature and science). I’m creating new worlds from old worlds, through which I disrupt expectations of femininity and invite interrogation into the female experience.

What is the allure about the plain, untarnished wood backdrop of many of you collages, in contrast to the layered paper images on top?
The organic lines and shapes in wood grains have always captivated me aesthetically. I use them as backgrounds as reference to the origins of print material and to reflect on the relationship between the natural and artificial world. I’m interested in the idea that the paper clippings and timber panels originate from the same source but through human intervention, take on completely different visual forms.

After sealing my plywood base, I glue down my collage then apply several layers of polyurethane and resin based varnish so from a practical perspective the works are durable, archival and ready to hang. The surface is actually waterproof, would you believe it?

How do you feel about modern media in relation to women’s bodies?
Women’s bodies are still as sexualised, objectified and anonymised as they have been in the past. I guess the difference between now and then is that we have access to so many new platforms of media than ever before and the focus has shifted from print to screen, which we consume massively on a daily basis. It’s a double edged sword - we’re exposed to so much more visual information and it’s so integrated into our lifestyles that quantitively we absorb so much more content than ever before, much of it still perpetuating the male gaze. Yet at the same time, we now also have more feminist alternatives available and digital spaces for women to reclaim their bodies. There are so many wonderful initiatives championing equality and empowerment in media today so compared to the past, in which the portrayal of women was one-dimensional, we now have access to a broader dialogue concerning women.

Unfortunately I don’t see sexism and misogyny dying out completely from media any time soon but I’m thankful that we’re now offered an antithesis. I think the change to inspire a more positive and egalitarian portrayal of women needs to stem from collective education and awareness within society - whether through schools, government policies that empower women or cultural commentary. I like to think that even myself as a young female artist contributes to this, inspiring the re-assessment of female stereotypes through my artwork, one glance at a time.

Do you have any projects/exhibitions coming up?
Yes, I’ve been working toward a few upcoming projects. I’m really excited to be part of a group show at Ambush Gallery titled ‘Capiche’, opening on Friday, the 16th of September, running until Sunday the 9th of October. Then on Tuesday the 4th of October, I’ll be opening a solo exhibition titled ‘Birds of Paradise’ at East Sydney Doctor’s Gallery in Darlinghurst running until the 31st of October. Then to finish for the year, I’ll be showing in a group exhibition titled ‘Rheology’ at Gaffa Gallery curated by the wonderful Elyse Goldfinch opening in December, (date to be announced).

What are you working on right now?
I’m just preparing new work for my upcoming exhibitions. I’d love for Art Pharmacy readers to attend, my collage works have taken an adventurous turn over the past few months so I’m very excited to share them. Bring your mates!

You can see all of Liz's works for sale here.