Bridget Penn-Berkeley – an artist’s winding path

An artist all my life, in the beginning I tried everything: drawing, painting, photography and film working with paint, charcoal, ink, clay, wood, plastics, even rubber. My parents were very supportive, at school I studied industrial design and technical drawing alongside my art but I gravitated towards sculpture during my A levels. This was due to my brilliant Art teacher Mr White at Wareham upper school supported by my summer job sculpting for an animated display studio DFA in Dorchester.

I completed my foundation degree at Bournemouth with very good teaching in colour theory and composition and was accepted by Wimbledon school of art to study Sculpture. Here I studied sculpture, art history, foundry work, photography, welding and became president of the student union organising big events in the college theatre, sitting with the governing body with responsibility for budgets.  This was a great learning ground and my art school years gave me confidence that I could tackle most things.

I continued to live in south London working in publishing then an opportunity arrived to sculpt for a display company making a variety of items from a giant gold coin for the royal mint to a very large plastic Webster [A children’s plastic toy very popular at the time for the Toy Fair] a vast array of three-dimensional objects for exhibitions and shop window displays. It was an exciting and challenging role making something different everyday never knowing what was coming next, I even cut up rope for a living for a few days, making a boardwalk display for a large shopping chain. The work was in polystyrene and other temporary materials, I was earning a living as a commercial sculptor/studio manager working for a variety of big-name clients including Hamleys, Phillips. Alders, London Dungeon, Milk marketing board, Fortnum & Mason, Lord Mayors show. The work ephemeral in nature made for the moment not to last, made to order with limited scope for self-expression although someone did take Slimer home (Ghost buster display Hamleys).

My interest was drawn to smaller sculptures made of more permanent materials and my work became more awards based. I fell in love with the quality of bronze, stone, brass, and titanium materials. I made awards for Glaxo Smith Kline, Haynes, Capital Radio and the BBC. It was during this period I designed and sculpted the Mercury Music Prize.

The winds of change arrived and my time in London ended with a move back to the West Country to start a new chapter in life. I married Kevin and we settled down to family life with my Son Morgan they were the centre of my life and we established ourselves in Bridgwater, schools, host family, jobs and for a while a studio on the Old Taunton Road Industrial estate. To begin with I was still sculpting for clients based mainly in London also we completed a large sculptural job for the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Hammersmith working with Ben.

London work drifted away as it was thought I was too far away, the concern highlighted by petrol strikes at the time. Plan B then, with the great support of my husband and parents we started a range of small wildlife and farm animal sculptures called West Country Originals to supply West Country shops for the tourist trade. My range of Bee circles inspired by the discovery that bees dance to communicate proved very popular with beekeepers. Sculpture was my craft, my passion, working hard to have a comprehensive portfolio to demonstrate my skill and creativity to potential customers.

Imagine my dismay when the portfolio was seen to be working against me as customers thought their job was too simple or boring for me! During this time in the west country we experienced difficult issues like heaps of dead cows, petrol strikes and a very wet summer this affected everyone, many of our outlets retired or ceased trading. Companies were cutting back, a simpler more modern style was gaining ground, new technology was producing encapsulation which was dramatic and economic, we could not compete with this mechanised sleek finish. I stopped sculpting for a living and began painting just for me in my spare time which has been an interesting journey, a liberation, an explosion of colour and expression.

I have found a style I call X’tract Art, starting point for this work is a photograph. This began as I had to walk for my health and I stepped back at work to a local branch-based role. To enable longer walks I took pictures, the aim to photograph round things, you would be amazed by how many round items there are out in the street-scape of the town. Once home I would work with the photographs on the computer bringing out and enhancing the existing colours, cropping to create the best compositions, bringing out the best qualities of these photographs. Then having beauty competitions to choose the best ones to paint in acrylic on canvas.

I will have a solo exhibition ‘Round Bridgwater’ in the new gallery February 2021, the opening exhibition will include my colourful carnival paintings a Covid corner included other artists work and an exhibition of work specially selected by other artists.  The Gallery project has been my salvation during this challenging pandemic.

My focus currently is the completion of phase one of the gallery to open to the public in 2021.    I have been developing some products to sell alongside the original paintings and prints.

Currently I am painting a small series based on a video made during lockdown and shared on line called ‘Pass the Rune’ I think I will be doing more Carnival paintings next year in response to the carnival coming back.