We meet Ellie Pennick, the self-proclaimed “Nasty Woman” and artist creating controversy with her sculpture of Prime Minister, Theresa May sticking the EU flag in her vulva. After tweeting the PM a picture of her work, Our Theresa has received both scrutiny and praise from Twitter users. The Northern-artist aims to embody the grit of the working class and use her practice as a form of self-expression. She is part of a generation that is undermined and scarred by the post-Thatcher, neoliberal society in which we operate. Her practice questions and challenges the prevailing political and social discourse with far-reaching repercussions indicative of a climate responding to inequality which affects millions.
Can you tell us what you do and why you do it?
I am a practising artist, a born and bred Yorkshire gal from a small mining town. I grew up in a highly politically driven family with the driest sense of humour. One side of the family witnessed first-hand Thatcher’s cruel vindication against the miners. This has made me aware I am now part of a generation that is undermined and scarred by the post-Thatcher, neoliberal society in which I now operate.
When did you first start sculpture?
I started sculpture at my time studying at Leeds College of Art; I was lucky enough to have two prominent artists within the art world as tutors. They taught us at such a high level and pushed us to determine the mediums that suited us. It turns out sculpture was my medium as I often can’t paint for shit.
“Political art is a strong tool; it’s a visual representation that can easily be passed around, especially over social media platforms. It cuts the shit and gets to the point.”
Your work often deals with political issues. There is often negativity surrounded political art, in what way can political art make a difference?
There’s a lot of negativity within politics in general, but there always has to be somebody who stands up and says, “actually hold on, no! something has to change!” I had to be vocal about this in some form. Political art is a strong tool; it’s a visual representation that can easily be passed around, especially over social media platforms. It cuts the shit and gets to the point.
You often sexualise your work through a satirical perspective. Can you tell us why you have chosen to do this?
It has become apparent to me humour is lacking within current artworks. It’s a shame; I am sure art could become more effective if people lightened up. I have soon realised that humour can quickly reach a wider audience from varying social and economic backgrounds. I’d like those who usually would not enter the art world, feel more welcome; art should not solely be for the elite.
‘Our Theresa’ has created an uproar since exhibiting at ‘Nasty Women’ and ‘Modern Panic VIII’– can you tell us a bit more about this piece?
Our Theresa was a response to the many communities who voted decisively to leave. I completely respect those who voted leave as this is a democracy — although I do not agree with them. People from communities who have been neglected by this government need to be educated on immigration in comparison to their actual issues; it was an anti-establishment vote. Our Theresa was created to kick-start a conversation.
What do you think about the reaction you’ve received from social media?
I did not expect the reaction from the public on such a large scale. I do appreciate the negative comments; I don’t take them to heart. Most of the trolls I get along with at the end of the conversation, the best way to handle them is to not react in anger. My favourite comments so far are:
‘This is wrong. Whoever made this can go choke’ – @inihelene
‘My comment was facetious and tactless. I had a bottle of red wine, so that’s my excuse’ – Anonymous
‘You are simply a nasty piece of work’ – @Rebartic
I would like to point out Rebartic; I am a ‘Nasty Woman’.
Why do you think it’s essential for the new generation of creatives to use their practice as an outlet for political expression?
If we take the example of the Brexit vote the younger generation voted remain by a considerable margin, we were voting for our future that was taken away from us. We as the artists have an amazing opportunity to reach out to people in such a different and unique way. We need to represent our generations genuine concerns. We have to start putting our views into action.
Who are your favourite new-generation artists at the moment?
I am going to mention two female artists first, firstly Anna Pye and Ruby Dickson. Strong painters, both from working-class families, they will go far, look them up. Additionally, Andy Hart is another one to look out for; I have a lot of respect for him as an artist. You will see why when you view his work.
What’s next for you?
I now direct a gallery named ‘The Take Courage Gallery’, which is a South London based contemporary project space whose ethos revolves around affordable exhibiting. The gallery gives artists a support network free from regulations and restraints, a chance to showcase their work! It’s based above the Amersham Arms which is a local run pub in which we support; you should come check us out! I was accepted onto the sculpture course at The Royal College of Art. I was unable to attend this year due to funding/financial reasons; I am determined to go next year. Most importantly I need to sell Our Theresa in order to create the next piece. I am keeping my ideas on the down low; they promise to be even more thought-provoking.