Nat Penney finds clarity in a winter beach

Trained in timber furniture making and metal fabrication, Adelaide-based artist Nat Penney has developed a professional practice that balances the creation of functional objects with evocative, more abstract forms. In her latest work balancing contrasting materials like Huon pine and steel, she illustrates, as she says, her particular blend of “blunt humour and absurd material combinations”.

Interested in how we move through multiple states of distraction to find a place of focus, Penney’s latest work hooks into calming elements of the marine environment and the natural world. “I’m reflecting on the various methods humans desperately seek out for soothing,” explains the artist. “This work is led by making connections between seemingly disconnected moments and brief glimpses of motivation throughout my life; not fighting or enforcing a linear narrative and surrendering to the links between brief fixations.”

Nat Penney, linking disparate fixations, 2024, digital collage of sculptural elements in stainless steel, mild steel, European Beech, dimensions variable.

Penney has created a series of forms from steel, aluminium and beech timber, noting that “In this suite of sculptural works, some pieces vibrate, oscillate, bubble, and dig gently into our backs, mimicking the ways in which we self-soothe, manipulate and isolate portions of the body to achieve focus and relief.” Her aim is to “emulate the distinct and complex energy of winter beach clarity by providing spaces for solitude, so viewers can absorb the hypnotic movement and stimulate clear thinking.”

Influenced by the playful, interactive work of artists like Ann Hamilton, Carsten Höller and Janet Echelman, Penney says her new work is also based on a more recent experience. The title of the exhibition is taken from Olivia Laing’s book, Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency, which coincidentally linked with Penney taking part in a cold ocean immersion challenge. “This practice of submersion into the chilled sea became both a motivational ritual,” says Penney, “and inspired a parallel with the shivering movement of the sculptures, which are powered by familiar functional items.”

a winter beach is a good place for seeing clearly
Nat Penney

Newmarch Gallery
14 June—13 July

This article was originally published in the May/June 2024 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Briony Downes