Penelope Matheson, Crambe Repetita

John Kinross Scholar in 2015


How did the experience affect you as an individual?
I went to Florence with the lofty intention of ‘mining the rich seam of Italian ceramics’ and indeed I did spend an inordinate amount of time gazing at lordly porcelain in old palazzos and rollicking earthenware in flea markets. However the modern city made its own claims. I found I was as much taken by every day contemporary life of Florence (right down to the way they wrap scaffold poles) as I was by its Renaissance splendours.

The other formative influence was the river Arno. The natural diversity of the riverside delighted me, especially the bird and plant life. I discovered that the egret colony on the south bank had only recently returned to Florence after the city tackled the pollution of the river waters and also that there were a lot of invasive and parasitic plant species growing there.


Penelope Matheson, Boboli Personality:Places, 2016, book, 30 x 21 cm, RSA Collection

What was the impact on your practice?
My practice employs figurative and organic imagery usually (but not always) arranged in hierarchical structures to illustrate cycles of hunger, desire and consumption.  I was moved to explore ecological resilience and the impact of parasitic organisms upon agriculture and this eventually led to “The Vegetable Tortures’, an installation that examines the sustainability of genetically modified crops.


What would you say the long term impact has been on yourself and you work?
The research from my time in Florence continues to inform my work; it would be no exaggeration to say that I think about it every day. I remain vitally interested in issues of material consumption and sustainable farming practices. I am currently working on a series of drawings and ceramics that examine the depletion of fishing stock and marine resources and the vital yet uneasy relationship between humans and the sea tentatively called ‘The Cruel Sea’.