How do we recognize the power that we carry? In this interview with sculptor Melanie Cooper Pennginton, we talk about the dichotomies found in her work that explore our inner workings as humans. Her burdened beasts are approachable, yet foreboding – a gentle warning to the viewer that fear and shame unchecked turns to entrapment and solitude. She reflects that these larger than life creatures reflect her own emotions – the mixing of hard and soft materials a direct reference to her own body and feelings. As we dive more into her work, we discuss the importance of realizing our own power as humans, even when we feel frail.
When discussing her childhood, Melanie reflects that her happy place, even as a child, has always been mud and water. She and her brother used to flood the backyard of their California home and make mud cities. This love of creating objects pushed her into a more classical education in sculpture, specifically the figure. She spent a lot of time in adulthood taking workshops with genre artists like Western “cowboy” sculptors who taught her how to bring an object to life with energy and movement – how to sculpt and draw every tendon and tensed muscle just so. In graduate school, which she did not attend until she was 37 years old, she researched fetish objects and images that suggested transfers of power in religion – specifically in Christianity. The combination of all these influences is what makes her work what it is today.
As we dive deeper into our discussion, Melanie talks about her time as a mother with babies and young children. The pressure she put on herself to make art created a shame spiral where she felt helpless and very alone. However, she declares that she wishes she had given herself the grace to just take a break instead of constantly feeling guilty that she did not have the brain space or energy to create. We also discuss the dangers of comparison, and how no two artists’ journeys are alike – and that is a good thing. In her current work the “fumbling” nature of her anthropomorphic figures resemble toddlers trying to find their way. Maybe it is reassuring to think that as artists and as people we are always fumbling – but that is what makes life and art exciting… the searching for new possibilities, the stretching into a new skin, and the beauty that comes from growth and knowing your own strength.
Biggest Art Crush: Berlinde de Bruyckere
Dream Trip: Italy
Film or book: My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok and Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Favorite meal: Vietnamese food
Shout-out: her crit group, and mentors Jeff Thompson and Malcolm Smith
To see more of Melanie’s work please visit her website and follow her on IG @melaniecooperpennington
The Artist/Mother podcast is created and hosted by Kaylan Buteyn. You can see more of Kaylan’s work on her website or connect with her on Instagram @kaylanbuteyn
Thanks so much to our sponsor COZI for helping us bring you this episode! Cozi is a surprisingly simple family calendar that can help busy families stay organized and well connected!