Penny Gunderson is an emerging visual artist who lives in southern Alberta. Her work features portraiture and figure work in encaustic, mixed media. Penny has been an RBC Emerging Visual Artist through the SPARK Disability Festival and Arts Commons. She is an Artist in Residence at the Women’s Centre of Calgary.
Penny lives with several chronic invisible illnesses including mental health and autoimmune health issues. Her interests in the disabled community and encaustic portraiture were united in Invisible Illness Icons a solo show at StudioC in cSPACE. Innovative curating of the exhibit made it more accessible. The exhibit sparked discussion and media coverage on the subject of invisible illness and the famous people who lived with them.
Her Fall 2019 Arts Commons, Window Gallery exhibit for the SPARK Disability Festival Solo Artist Exhibit Changemakers featured installations on the theme of chronic illness and coming to terms with it. Personal Panorama includes two installation works Anger Flows and Green Hills combining fabric, wax, fibre and stitching depicting the figure as abstract landscape.
Penny has collaborated with newcomer women from 1000 Voices and disadvantaged women from the Women’s Centre of Calgary on the Mending Circle Project exploring community through encaustic, fibre, stitchery and fabric. It is currently on display as part of the Many Paths exhibit at Arts Commons. She is developing the Covid-19 Crazy Quilt Wall Hanging exploring her personal journey through the pandemic.
My creative process involves deeply considering what matters to me and the communities I am a part of. The disabled community, being an older woman, the #metoo movement, and the resiliency and companionship of women in groups have all been catalysts in my work.
I work primarily in encaustic, which is molten beeswax combined with tree resin and pigment, fused to a natural base. This is a very intuitive medium since the wax reacts to the heat in many ways.
Recently, I have begun to combine encaustic with fibre and stitching. When I was young, I did sewing and tailoring, and although I’m not able to sew at that level anymore, I have embraced the slow stitching movement. With this method, slow intentional hand stitching is more important than perfect stitching. I am currently printing encaustic photographs of COVID-19-inspired artwork on natural fabrics and then combining them with fibre and stitching.
I am inspired by the character of the human face and figure. I work on large, deeply coloured encaustic portraits and attempt to reveal the person peering out of the face I am painting.
In my recent works, combining encaustic photographs on silk or cotton I have attempted
• to capture the community of women as they stitch and visit together,
• to express the emotions triggered by chronic Illness in encaustic and fibre abstract figures presented as landscape, and
• to combine centrepieces of encaustic photographs depicting my COVID-19-inspired artwork into crazy quilt blocks with embroidered seams.