When artist Gabrielle Penfold takes to the road, she aims for total immersion. In the food, the wine, in conversations with locals, in the soft waters of her favourite Sicily. It’s this hunger for life’s uncomplicated pleasures that defines her artworks – paintings of sensuous landscapes and intimate table settings, the occasional firing of sun-drenched pottery – that inspire simultaneous cravings for a trip to the Mediterranean and a lobster dinner with your three best friends. Which is a loose depiction of Penfold’s reality. In commemoration of the European summer just past, she takes us to a few of the places that inspire her mind.
When and why did you start making art on the regular?
I have always loved making things. When I was younger, school holidays were spent with my friends Hannah and Frances making strange ceramic creatures, Micky and I would spend the weekends cooking up glorious dishes. So making art around food, adventures and friendships has always been a part of my life.
When someone asks what you do now, what do you tell them?
I tell them I’m an artist, who dabbles in all sorts of creative projects.
How important are your surroundings when you’re making?
Fortunately I can work anywhere, as long as there is great sun. I mostly paint in my studio and sometimes special places abroad.
You’re looking for inspiration: where do you go?
That’s the fascinating thing, inspiration comes from everything and anywhere. For me it’s more about working on having a clear head.
“When I’m in a happy place and feeling open, the ideas come from unexpected places.”
As well as your landscapes, you depict intimate spaces – table settings and the sites of social gatherings. What is it about these scenes that fascinate you?
To me there is nothing more important in life than the time shared in these spaces. Picnics at the beach, dinner parties and travel feed the soul. I love the beauty in these moments and love trying to capture it through paint.
What part does travel play in your creative process?
It would have to be the most important part of my process. So much of my inspiration comes from my trips. The architecture, the landscapes, the sea, the people, the food.
“[Travelling is] when I grow the most.”
Who are the artists inspiring you now?
I’m going though an obsession with the Renaissance. Although it’s not reflected in my work at the moment, Caravaggio and Botticelli are fascinating me.
Other current obsessions?
I have just been in Sicily with my friend Rafaella who is a writer and the both of us were completely blown away. The colours are incredible, there is a crazy haze that sits over the capital and its washed out buildings.
“I was so gobsmacked by the light in Sicily, I kept blinking.”
Could you tell us about your creative space? What are its essential components?
My studio is at my family home in Sydney. It’s a very special place for me, filled with treasures from my travels. My dad is retired and always pottering around the place, he is always helping me make something and provides hilarious banter. Mum is an English and history teacher, I’m always running concepts past her – our conversations take my ideas to another level. The both of them are essential to my practice.
Tell us about your ultimate trip away …
Everyone who knows me could answer this question so easily. It would be with my friends and family somewhere in Italy (probably Sicily). Good food, loads of wine, beaches, the sun, my paints … and for a long time. Nothing better than settling in somewhere and becoming a local. I have just been away with my beautiful friends Domi and Marie … Nothing gave us more laughs than to know all the names of the town’s characters after four days.
How do you feel when you’re painting?
It changes all the time. At the moment, I’m a little overwhelmed as I’m buzzing with so many ideas. I’m 25, and life is proving to be confusing, brilliant and hilarious … When I’m painting, I’m so certain. No questions asked, I know it’s what I’m meant to be doing.
If you could only paint one thing for the rest of time, what would it be?
Romance, because it’s the best subject in the world.