Artist Focus: Penny Siopis

Aspire Art brings two magnificent Siopis works to auction on 19 June

06/06/2024     Live Auctions

Following the recent opening of Penny Siopis' first retrospective in Europe, For Dear Life. A Retrospective, on the 17th of May at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, Aspire Art is thrilled to bring to auction, two fantastic works by the artist.

Both executed in Siopis’ unique medium of ink, glue and oil paint, Feral Fables: Out of the Wilderness (2007) and Ash (2011) are wonderful examples of the artist’s interest in unorthodox experiments in painting and the fluid medium.


Lot 43: Feral Fables: Out of the Wilderness | R 60 000 - 80 000


Feral Fables: Out of the Wilderness (2007) was first exhibited at Michael Stevenson in Cape Town on a group exhibition, Afterlife, curated by Sophie Perryer in April 2007. Here, Siopis created a collection of ‘feral fables’ works where she drew on stories featuring ‘wild people’ – people whose identities somehow challenge our humanity. Interested in how such characters reveal to us something about ourselves, the artist considers their wildness as necessary to confirm our domestication. She explored two types of stories. The first were stories of feral children – raised by animals or living in extreme isolation in cities. The second worked with characters such as  Julia Pastrana (1834-1860). Born with a genetic condition, hypertrichosis terminalis, Pastrana’s face and body were covered with straight black hair, her ears and nose were unusually large and her teeth were irregular. During her life she was exhibited around the world and after her death her preserved body would be displayed in museums, circuses and amusement parks for over 100 years.


Lot 44: Ash | R 600 000 - R 800 000


Ash is monumental work from 2011. First exhibited in Siopis’ solo exhibition, Who’s Afraid of the Crowd at Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town in April of that year. For Siopis, medium is always critical to her message. She avoids explaining the theoretical aspects of individual pieces but is nonetheless always immersed in a world rich in ideas, stories and history. In, Who’s Afraid of the Crowd the anchoring theme was that of the many tensions within each individual. Here, she was particularly inspired by Elias Canetti’s book Crowds and Power (1960). The study draws on a remarkable collection of myths, historical – and literary sources to discuss different types of crowds. But what interested Siopis the most was the, “unpredictable ‘open’ crowd, whose energies multiply, morph, take direction and grow”. Canetti’s description of these crowds drew on nature symbols – fire, water, forests and swarms – and the artist found these particularly resonant for her painting.

Siopis notes that Ash works through a tension created between the materiality of the glue and ink medium, the image that emerges by chance and the sketchy and fragile figure painted in oil. The glue creates the ‘ground’ for the figure and the title is suggestive. Bringing to mind environmental turbulence or catastrophes – Hiroshima, fires and floods – the ink, as it bleeds and dissolves into the glue, gives shape to formless emotions.

Ash was further included in the artist’s 2016 retrospective, Penny Siopis: Time and Again at the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape in 2015 and a group exhibition, Air: Inspiration – Expiration at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg in 2016. A highly accomplished artist, a retrospective of her film works, This is a True Story: Six Films (1997-2017), was also held at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town in 2018. Other notable international solo shows include Incarnations (2016) at the Institute of Contemporary Art Indian Ocean in Mauritius; Penny Siopis: Films (2016) at Erg Galerie in Brussels; Obscure White Messenger (2014) at Brandts Museum, Denmark and Three Essays on Shame (2005) at the Freud Museum in London. The artist was a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Arts & Culture Trust (ACT) Awards in 2016. She was also the first winner of the Volkskas Atelier Award (now Absa L'Atelier Award) in 1986 and won the Vita Art Now award in 1988, 1991, and 1995.






20th Century & Contemporary Art

19 June 2024 at 7pm



7 – 19 June 2024
Monday – Friday: 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Saturday: 10 am – 2 pm


Discover more from 20th Century & Contemporary Art