Artist Amy Pennington works collaboratively with her subjects
Her most recent project, Assuming Too Much (currently on show until October 14th at Hotel Elephant in Elephant & Castle), is the result of a six month long residency at Open Barbers, a gender-neutral barbers shop and hairstylist in N1.
Amy drew willing customers’ hair after they’d had it cut. All of the subjects were drawn without their faces to ensure the collection of sketches could be used to create a look book for the salon. The result is a series of pictures that doesn’t appear gendered in the way they might with traditional model shots. We caught up with Amy to find out more.
What drew you to Open Barbers?
I love what they are doing at the salon, they’re offering a service you can’t find elsewhere. I’m queer, so I’ve always been interested in issues around sexuality and gender. A hairdressing salon is an intimate space and people often form a real bond with their stylist, so it felt like a privilege to become part of Open Barbers. I’m fascinated by barber’s shops and hairdressers as spaces of transformation. They facilitate self-expression and I wanted to explore how this feeds into ideas about identity.
Is it fair to say there’s something a bit anthropological about it?
Not really. It’s more collaborative than that. What I’ve enjoyed about it is the process of creating the sketches with the subjects. Those who were willing sat for me after their haircut. They were free to sit quietly, text, read, or chat. I had so many interesting conversations with the people I drew. We talked about everything from politics and the mundane but interesting details of daily life (what to have for tea), to where that person was on a transitional journey from one gender to another. Once I was finished drawing, I asked each of the sitters to help me choose a title for the portrait, often these were linked to what we’d talked about whilst I drew. Each sitter got a carbon copy of my drawing too,an artwork just for them.
Do you have a set working process as a general rule?
More and more I find inspiration in issues that appeal to me – what I see happening in the world. My ideas come from people and I’m interested in anyone on the outskirts of society. In another recent project, I spent some time in a care home creating a variety of work, ranging from collage to video, with individual residents. We made each of these together and I got to know them through the process. It’s really important to me to take care to avoid misrepresenting people, to think ethically about the way I work. Personal connection and a desire to engage with people and give voice to the voiceless tends to be at the heart of everything I try to do.
Amy’s exhibition with Hotel Elephant in Elephant and Castle, London, runs until 14th October 2016