penelope cain artist

55 support images

Support images for 55 Sydenham rd application.
The first 5 images are work-in progress, and part of the proposal. The second 5 images are support, from recent related work, to show the media, appearance and broader practice.

1_holey dollar

Previous recent work: supporting related work:

New work, finalist Fishers Ghost Award, Campbelltown Gallery

Undermine is a finalist in the Fishers Ghost Award, at the Campbelltown Art Centre, from 3rd Nov- 15th December, 2017.

Penelope Cain Undermine

Undermine, 2017 UV cured digital print on linen, fibreglass mesh, dyed rooster feathers, fabric, wood, plaster reinforced sandcastles, tape

Undermine pivots from a small painting by a nineteenth century former-convict and amateur artist, George Peacock. The painting looks along Sydney Harbour, encompassing a view of the emerging commerce and city of the colony, and was central to my previous exhibition, Profiteer Chic, at Artereal Gallery, July 2017.

In Undermine I have used fragments from this colonial landscape to photoshop a between-image, with an overlay of fibreglass mesh, depicting two oil rigs.

The linen work is framed by two fabric and feather banner forms, one of which rests on a pile of plaster-reinforced sandcastles.

In this work I was reflecting on ideas around extractive economics and colonialism, both old and new. I am also interested in territorialism and sovereignty- formal versus provisional and vernacular forms of spatial occupation. The expanded installation structures reflect on this interest.  When I was a child I shared the great Australian summer holiday experience at the beach- spending days by the beach umbrella, building small termporary cities of sandcastles, complete with seaweed flags and gumnut boats. Some of this spatial play is reflected in this work.

Fisher’s Ghost Art Award

‘Profiteer Chic’ @ Artereal Gallery 5-29th July

Profiteer Chic

Artereal gallery,  747 Darling Street Rozelle.

Opening 5th July and continuing until 29th July.

This series of works is an extension from a body of work undertaken from 2016 which included Upsell (image:here), which was included in View @ Artereal Gallery, curated by Barbara Dowse and acquired by Artbank, and Yield (Proposition for a Panorama Towards the Northern Top) (image:here) a finalist in the Sulman Prize, Art Gallery of NSW, and Peak, (image:here) a current finalist in the Hazelhurst Art on Paper Award, until mid July.

Profiteer Chic takes as its starting point a single small painting by a nineteenth century, Sydney based former-convict and amateur artist, George Peacock. The painting looks along Sydney Harbour from Garden Island, towards the emerging city. The artist was a middleclass English convict; a lawyer transported for the white collar crime of document forgery, which he undertook to fund the appearance of success in his community[1]. The contemporary manifestations of the themes contained within this small painting are reflected in all the works in the show.

Profiteer Chic, installation view, Artereal gallery, Sydney, 2017

While undertaking initial research for Profiteer Chic, I was drawn to this small painting because it appeared to bracket the marks of colonialism, economy and trade, between the ships, soldiers and emerging city of Sydney. This single image offered potential to negotiate  thoughts on the contemporary manifestations of these concerns, through the history of Australian colonisation. This path also allowed potential to integrate my ongoing interest in notions of the landscape sublime/ anti-sublime, alongside an increasing interest in the politics of urban space.

I was especially interested in mapping the territory between historic colonialism, as seen in the British ‘settlement’ of Australia, with it’s hierarchies of power, control of trade, assumptions of ownership and abuse of authority, to contemporary acts of economic colonialism undertaken by global corporations, in particular those operating within Australia. 

The term ‘extractive economies’ was brought to light by Acemoglu and Robinson (2)  in describing the national economies that base their productivity on non-renewable resources (such as oil and gas), and where there is a tendency for consolidation of the obtained income into the hands of the few rather than redistributed for national good.

penelope Cain Amazon

The day that Amazon Came to Town, 2017. PCV shape, sequins, mega-glitter. 32 x 9 cm

In my research I wanted to test the notion that extractive economics is in fact another version of colonialism. In this I drew on imagery such as deep-sea oil rigs, monocle telescopes and oval portrait frames. The title of the exhibition is a tongue-in-cheek riff on this line. That there is a chic to making profit goes without saying in the contemporary economic environment, yet I’m interested in the slight tarnish to the word ‘chic’ , and tried to play this up with the use of mini-discoballs, glass beads and sequins.

penelope cain profiteer chic

Profiteer Chic 2017. UV cured digital print on linen, glass beads. 93 x 130 cm

I see this body of work partly as a process of mapping of the terrain I’ve described above, and partly as a type of testing of the proposition. It is equally, though, a small act of resistance. I am deeply concerned by the environmental and economic vandalism surrounding the Adarni mine development, the ease with which corporations such as BHP, Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell avoid paying tax and royalties for oil, gas and mineral extraction in Australia.

penelope cain pump it up

Pump it up and just keep dancing, 2017 uv cured digital print on acrylic and linen, fibreglass mesh, dyed rooster feathers, thread, pencil. 130 x 133 cm


Pump It Up (Detail)

In Pump It Up And Just Keep Dancing two oil rigs are overlaid into a small fragment of Peacock’s scene of Sydney Harbour. They are intentionally shaped to reference the sails of the trade ships in the harbour. I keep returning to fibreglass mesh as a material because of its shadowy present/ absent effect- it looks like a negative or after-image, yet is so materially present on top of the linen. The two figures on the left side have been reworked from the original painting so that they appear to be looking at the rigs.

Profiteer Chic (detail) UV cured digital print on linen, glass beads.

In Profiteer Chic I used a slice from Peacocks work to create an even tighter view along the harbour, adding more ships, and created a circular hole in the middle of the canvas, with a second layer glued underneath. I wanted to create an idea of looking through a telescope, much like the view from the captain’s brig. I was striving to refer to notions of power of land ownership implicit through the history of European landscape art. The text “profiteer chic’ is covered in glass beads so it glistens on top of the image.

penelope cain

Ballsy (from the Anatomy of Power series) , 2017. Disco balls, nylon netting, telescope, microbeads, ribbon. Approx 40 x 9 x 8 cm. Installation view.

The telescope and the act of power through the gaze is again drawn on in #45 (from the Anatomy of Power series), where a childrens telescope, covered in glittery microbeads is paired with net-covered discoballs to look a little bit like male genitalia. In using the microbeads I was hoping for a material effect that looked bit like crusted sand or even slightly crusty skin cells. The title refers obliquely to Donald Trump (president #45), the ultimate profiteer.

Business As Usual 2017. UV cured digital print on linen, glass beads. Triptych installation view



For the last 2-3 years I have been using the technique of referencing, reflecting and collaging historic landscapes combined with flyscreen mesh and feathers to navigate my interest in the built urban landscape, notions of ‘the city’ and the nodes of economic and spatial power that occur in the city and urban environment (ie the politics of urban space). I am also interested in notions of the landscape sublime, and how it permits the potential for the anti-sublime. In this I reference Robert Smithson and his ‘Tour of the Monuments of Passiac’.

Through all my work this year I have become increasingly interested in the propositional performability of commerce within the city, and its gendered nuances. I hope to pursue this further in new research.


Geroge Peacock, Sydney From Garden Island, 1846, State Library NSW

 [1] G.E. Peacock, Trove Database, National Library of Australia
[2] “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty” by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.

Finalist, Hazelhurst Art on Paper Award

 PEAK has been selected as a finalist in the 2017 Hazelhurst Art on Paper Award, opening friday 19th.

This work is one of 90 finalists, selected from over 850 applications.

@ Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, 782 Kingsway, Gymea NSW, 20th May- 16th July 2017.

PEAK (installation view) , 2017 photocopy pasteup, fabric, pole, feathers, beads, cord. 1.8 w x 2.2

This work takes as its pivot point a 19th century lithograph of the Blue Mountains, by landscape painter Eugene von Guerard, to ask questions around forms of economics and power in the city, through the lens of the European history of landscape art, notions and values of the sublime in art, and British colonisation.

Collaging the shadow of a scaffolded highrise onto the top of the Blue Mountains panorama recontextualises and provisionally updates the depicted landscape, reflecting the contemporary housing gold rush in urban Australia, and the rush to expand to undeveloped land. The work co-opts the gesturing male figure in von Guerard’s orginal work (commonly included in romantic sublime landscapes of the era), to reflect on gestures of ownership of land, in particular gendered ownership and the performance of the economy.

The quasi-symbolic banner in mesh and fabric ambiguously conflates references to marches and parades or even more darkly, rituals and rites, with the actions of commerce and urban development, including the holey dollar symbol of Macquarie Bank (originally from Governor Macquarie’s counter punched Spanish silver coins), gold and brass bugle beads and black strung roster feathers.

The work ambiguously twists the materiality of ‘the street’ and resistance, to reveal the power status quo- banks, property development and other hegemonic power nodes.

Detail: PEAK pasteup, 2017


Holey dollar, New South Wales, 1813

This work is, to a degree, a small act of resistance and is part of an ongoing interest in slippages, power and performance of commerce within the city.


Eugene von Guerard, Wetherboard Falls, lithograph, (State Library NSW). This image was part of a printed folio of landscape panoramas around NSW and Victoria sold to colonists and exported to Britain at the time.

HOWLING AT THE MOON…. @ Artereal Gallery

New work at Artereal Gallery opened 7th Sept….

HOWLING AT THE MOON is a paired pasteup and a flyscreen mesh work on linen operating in dialogue between the street and the gallery.

7th Sept- 1st Oct

Artereal Gallery

747 Darling Street, Rozelle


HOWLING AT THE MOON installation detail, photocopy pasteup, 2016

2016 seems to have shaped up as a year of geopolitical anxiety. Locally and globally events have been occurring that are unhappy, unanticipated, inexplicable or unwanted. The politics of a double dissolution, Brexit, Trumpism, ISIS- the list goes on.

Initially in response to the increasingly anxious events I tried to disengage and stop paying attention- to *unsubscribe* and instead engage with human interest narratives, word plays and even kitten videos.

Instead, after the kitten videos finished I found myself watching animal fights and politicians’  shenanigans. So I decided to metaphorically pick the scab, and make a work about the current moment of anxiety in contemporary culture, a response to the seemingly irreconcilable conflicting forces in society, politics and the economy.

HOWLING AT THE MOON is this work.

howling install smaller

HOWLING AT THE MOON installation view. Photocopy pasteup, 3.2x 1.5m, 2016


In this lo-fi pasteup, using images from the internet and sourced photos, the (human) hands of a clock, constructions sites, politicians and traffic jams are circumscribed by police, armies and shamanic raven feathers. This half moon of anxiety is flanked by a chained wolf and a caged dingo, howling from the outside to that within.


buy in smaller

Buy In Sell Out fibreglass mesh, fabric, spraypaint, feathers, thread on linen, 70 x 100CM, 2016

The paired work, Buy-In-Sell-Out is made from fibreglass mesh, spraypaint and black feathers, on linen, and uses related imagery- rendering a juxtaposition of wolf and bear heads, snake skeletons, building scaffolding and fragments of jewellery in fibreglass mesh, combined with theatrically shamanic black feathers and a spray paint gash. The text, ‘buy in’ and the matching title, has an intentional dual meaning- referring both to straightforward and common fiscal transaction/s, or an emotional response- being sold a story.


buy in DETAIL

Buy In Sell Out: detail

buy in sell out installation

Buy In Sell Out Installation image


Creative Accounting curated by Holly Williams

I have 3 works in ‘Creative Accounting’ curated by Holly Williams.

Asking a very current curatorial question, ‘Creative Accounting’ explores ideas around money, economic systems, perceived value and the aesthetics of currency, at a time when money is becoming increasingly abstract. Currently open at Hawkesbury Regional Gallery, until 10th July, the exhibition will tour to six venues across Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales.

Artists include: Fiona Hall, David Shapiro, Conrad Bakker, Ian Burns, Penelope Cain, Joachim Froese, Melanie Gilligan, Andrew Hurle, Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre, Daniel McKewen, Christine McMillan, Kenzee Patterson, Ryan Presley, David Shapiro and Abdullah M.I. Syed, Jess Olivieri & Haley Forward with the Parachutes for Ladies.


Penelope Cain growth at all costs

Growth at all Costs 2015/2016 fibreglass mesh, dyed feathers, sequins, rubber, thread, pins each approx 100 x 130 cm

Growth at all Costs is a two-part quasi- casting or manifestion, a tongue in cheek attempt at dark magic action towards the economy. Thinking about regalia, banners, crests, religion, military and governance, these wall works are formed from shapes of new buildings, boats, trucks and other evident forms of economic activity.  The work follows a half-formed question around the performability of commerce.


penelope cain growth at all costs

Installation view, Albury regional gallery, 2017


trickle down install1

‘Trickle Down’, 2016, installation view, digital print on Phototex, flyscreen mesh, feathers, rubber, fabric, sequins.

Trickle Down uses as a pivot point a 19th century lithograph by Eugene von Guerard of the Weatherboard Falls, Blue Mountains, to reflect on contemporary urban economic principles and truisms.The theory of trickle down economics was a linchpin of Reganomics and Thatcher era policies, positing that tax breaks to the wealthy will be spent, ultimately trickling down to the poor, instead of giving the tax breaks directly to the most needy. In this work I have collaged images of urban productivity- apartments, cranes and traffic-jammed cars over von Guerard’s sublime Blue Mountains landscape. Von Guerard’s figure in the lower right corner (channelling Casper David Frederick’s male observer to the natural sublime), is backed by 3 Australian flags, sourced from Tony Abbott’s media appearances.

The work incorporates a series fo ongoing themes that I am interested in- the gendered performance of capitalism, post-collonial notions of land and land ownership, and propositionally ascribing elements of the sharmanic and dark magic to the apparently rational ‘economy’.

In this wider line of enquiry I have taken as a starting point a text by (American land artist) Robert Smithson, from his project, “The Monuments of Passaic” (1967), in which he identified the decaying ‘ruins in reverse’ and ‘zero panoramas’, in describing the unromantic, anti-sublime, urban, industrial service-town near New York. I am repeatedly drawn to Smithson’s critical conflation of the urban landscape with the outcome of macroeconomic actions, the romantic notion of the sublime and the ruin, and a glitching of the expected linearity of time. In this Smithson offers a propositional shattering of our rational expectations of urban landscape and the economy.

(Smithson’s essay here…)


trickle down detail smaller

Trickle Down detail of wall installation, 2016.

Finalist in Fishers Ghost Award and Grace Cossington Smith Award, Nov/Dec. 2015

Trickle Down is a finalist in the Fishers Ghost Open award at Campbelltown Art Gallery, opening Friday 6th Nov.

This large flyscreen mesh work on digital print is an extension of the line of enquiry I have been pursuing, using propositional notions of the contemporary urban sublime as a pivot point for considerations of the history of landscape, land ownership and power in the city.

The Romantic notion of the Sublime within art history was in part a reaction to industrialisation and a loosening of the ties of religion and notions of humanism within the wider world. Nature was rediscovered as larger, wilder and more spiritually profound than previously noticed. And within this broader timeframe, in a safer Europe, wealthier Europeans travelled, and the idea of the panorama was developed in response, commodifying the experience of nature (to souvenir the views seen and experiences had, or to view for the first time, for those that could not afford to travel).

In this wider line of enquiry I have taken as a starting point a text by (American land artist) Robert Smithson, from his project, “The Monuments of Passaic” (1967), in which he identified the decaying ‘ruins in reverse’ and ‘zero panoramas’, in describing the unromantic, anti-sublime, urban, industrial service-town near New York. I am repeatedly drawn to Smithson’s critical conflation of the urban landscape with the outcome of macroeconomic actions, the romantic notion of the sublime and the ruin, and a glitching of the expected linearity of time. In this Smithson offers a propositional shattering of our rational expectations of urban landscape and the economy.

(Smithson’s essay here…)

In this current series I have been riffing off Australian landscape paintings, and in particular a series of paintings and prints by Eugene von Gerard, who travelled widely in Australia and painted his view of the Australian landscape through a late-colonial frame of reference. His sublime, wide landscapes, occasionally peopled with white settlers or Aboriginal locals stretches out beyond their frames.

I have been reviewing and repurposing these works to open a conversation about out post-colonial understanding of landscape and the urban, including questions about the power of land ownership, and power more generally within the cityscapes that we build and inhabit. Following thoughts initiated in Growth at all Costs! earlier this year I am interested in the performance of power and capital and how Capitalism is performed within the City. With this in mind I was drawn to von Gerard’s human figures within his landscapes, as they frequently gesture in a mode of optimistic ownership towards the land stretching out in front of them.


In Trickle Down, Tony Abbot’s flags stand behind the gesturing climber, as a new building development (drawn from images from the current Barangaroo office development) is envisaged on the Waterboard Falls in the Blue Mountains.

The economic theory of ‘trickle down’, championed by economic drys such as  Ronald Regan and friends, argues that giving tax breaks to the super wealthy will allow increased luxury spending, tricking down to poorer people thereby aiding the economy. It seemed a wholly appropriate title for this work.

The feathers and rubber are pure shaman. The economy of the city manifested as white people’s Dark magic. (With assisted visual reference from Victoriana and women’s mourning jewellery.)

trickle down 2 detail

Below: Installation view at Campbelltown regional gallery for the Fishers Ghost Prize

instll 1b



Two related works also showing as finalists in the Grace Cossington Smith award, Grace Cossington Smith Gallery, Abbotsleigh School.

Selected as one of 15 finalists from over 300 entries, the two chosen works are a continuation of the above line of enquiry.

Panorama From The Forest to the Mountain (3 Wise Men Look Over the Crown Casino Building Site) (2015) builds a flyscreen mesh mountain out of the shapes of buildings, scaffolding and cranes. Overlooking this mountain are the three figures of white men gesturing towards the mountain. The figures were harvested from 18th-19th century landscape paintings-  the explorer Joseph Banks, Eugene von Guerard and  the grazier Leigh Sadleir Falkiner.


Growth Solution #1 Sydney, 2015

This work is made from a map of Sydney and a mirrored map, placed side by side. Black sequins cover all areas on which there are buildings and parks, open lands and other un-developed areas have been cut away, untethering the city from its land. The resultant form is a lace like structure, that almost looks like an outcome of medical imaging, offering an alternative perspective on the city.

sydney growth solution1

growth solution#1_detail

Growth at all Costs! A-M Gallery

Growth at all Costs! is a solo show of new work at A-M Gallery, Wilson St, Newtown.

12-30th May, 2015

This current line of enquiry was triggered by cutting out maps of cities. Growth Solution #1: Sydney is a mapping of the form of the built city through the location of flat black sequins, and excising the built city out and away from its territory. This process opened questions about the economics of land in ‘the city’ and broader questions about how the economy is presented and performed in the city; a functional economic and trade nexus.

That there is a performative element to economics is a proposition that is played out through an intentional collision of apparently disparate elements- the performative aspects of colonial landscape painting, Victorian mourning jewellery and tribal religious regalia.

The works pay out on economic phrases and terms heard and repeated to the point of mantra, such as that in the show’s title- ‘growth at all costs’. These are stretched and played to a point of surreality through the collaged motifs of shields, plaques and monuments, denoting a type of ceremonial intensity, yet these propositional relics are rendered in intentionally perverse materials such as visually fugitive flyscreen mesh and intensely solid industrial rubber sheeting, and decorated with lavish feathers and almost burlesque sequins.

growth solution#1

Growth Solution #2: Sydney. Sequins, fabric-backed map.


growth solution#1_detailThe works link materially and thematically to recent previous work- in the Paramor Art+ Innovation Award and the Blake Prize earlier this year, as well as MFA graduation work, mid 2014.


Flyscreen mesh provides a sense of the provisional, elusive; the retinal after-image. The feathers and sequins are both a nod to the burlesque, and to the intensity of decoration found in religious relics and costumes.

In an interesting synchronicity, this exhibition opened on the same evening as the 2015 federal budget release. Indeed.


Costs : detail feathers, flyscreen mesh, sequins. 2015

three wise men_smaller

Growth Solution: The Three Wise Men Look Over the Crown Casino Building Site. flyscreen mesh, tape, rubber, digital print on silk, sequins. 201

capital back_smaller

Capital (back of work), installation view in gallery window. Rubber, feathers, netting. 32 cm (w) x 120 cm (h), 20

loss 1

Loss : installation view. Rubber, feathers, nylon, mesh, thread. 60 cm (w) x 128 cm (h), 2015

Selected finalist in the Paramor art prize, Jan- March 2015

Panorama From the Base of Iron Mountain has been selected as a finalist in the Paramor Prize, Casula Powerhouse, Sydney.

The PARAMOR PRIZE: ART + INNOVATION encourages new ways of seeing, experiencing and interpreting the world around us. 40 finalists were selected, including:

Marian Abboud, Clark Beaumont , Damien Butler, Penelope Cain , Carla Cescon, Gary Deirmendjian, Jacquelene Drinkall, Kath Fries, Sarah Goffman, Tim Gregory, Yvette Hamilton, Ash Keating, Karena Keys, Owen Leong. Leon Lester, Liana Lewis, Louise Paramor, Katy B Plummer, Diego Ramirez, Merri Randell, Erica Seccombe, Mimi Tong, Undrawing the Line (Zanny Begg), Julie Williams, Gabriella and Brent Wilson, Jason Wing.

Opening Saturday, 31st Jan, and continues 31 January – 15 March 2015

Casula Powerhouse,

1 Powerhouse Road, Casula NSW 2170

panorama from the base of iron mountain

Panorama From the Base of Iron Mountain (detail) 2015


In this current line of enquiry I am looking for new ways to read, experience and depict the urban landscape, taking as a starting point of the art historical reading of the term (landscape).

I have been examining this, using as a starting point two ‘Romantic’ notions: the natural sublime and the ruin. In this I have been experimenting with trying to find the point of articulation between the sublime, nature and the built, to examine how the historical relationship between these is in flux in the contemporary urban landscape.

To undertake this body of work I have intentionally collapsed facets from the modern commercial city with ideals of their cultural opposite of ‘nature’ or ‘sublime’, to mark out the terrain between these two social constructs. I have proposed a series of (small-time) questions about ‘the city’, beauty in the landscape (two equally contested terms), and consumption, in what ever format these are experienced.

In this line of enquiry I have been using a novel combination of media- flyscreen mesh, drawing, spray paint and video- and experimenting with wall drawing and the idea of making expanded drawings.

This work, Panorama From the Base of Iron Mountain, is one outcome from this line of enquiry. Taking as a starting point two images: Caspar David Friedrich’s Sea of Ice and Joseph Michael Gandy’s Ruin of the Bank of London , the work evolved from a previous installation for my MFA graduate exhibition in 2014.

Caspar_David_Friedrich_sea of ice

Caspar David Friedrich, Sea of Ice, 1824












This in-progress experimental outcome uses imagery referencing the urban ruin and the edges of the city to build a traditionally panoramic mountain silhouette. The forms of a small group of urbexing boys are partially concealed within the propositional / constructed ruin, along with references of graffiti and urban re-appropriation. Birds and wild dogs circle and fight around the ruined structures, much as they always will, re-taking the unattended edges of the city.


My aim was to generate a propositional point of ruin- mediating a partial line of redemption between the real, the dystopian (Robert Smithson’s ‘zero panoramas’, and ‘ruins in reverse’ from his 1967 Tour of Passic New Jersey) and the poetic temporal rupture described by Walter Benjamin.


Panorama iron mountail detail 3

Panorama From the Base of Iron Mountain (detail) 2015



Panorama From the Base of Iron Mountain (installation image) flyscreen mesh, plastic, tape, spray paint, video.

paramor install4

Installation view on opening night