Artist Profile: Denise Pepper

A REGULAR PARTICIPANT IN THE HIGH-PROFILE PUBLIC EXHIBITION SCULPTURE BY THE SEADENISE PEPPER CREATES LARGE-SCALE SCULPTURAL WORKS THAT ARE UNDERPINNED BY A WORLD OF INTRICATE DETAIL. KATIE MILTON WRITES.

WHEN WEST AUSTRALIAN artist Denise Pepper completes a project, she cleans out her studio and covers all of the workbenches with large sheets of white paper. This, says the artist, “cleanses my mind and allows for new ideas and projects to take seed in my thoughts.” It makes sense then that her research-led sculptural practice is so rich in technique and varied in subject matter: she always starts from scratch.

“I begin with considerable research and a collection of images to trigger ideas and concepts. I use mood boards when I can,” Denise explains. “My work is consistently diverse and challenges me to explore new ideas through experimentation.”

The artist’s large-scale works that brim with detail are likely recognisable to those that have visited the annual outdoor exhibition, Sculpture by the Sea. In 2017, Denise scooped the coveted Emerging Sculptor Scholarship at this high-profile event when she exhibited her hand-embossed boat sculpture, Leaden Hearts, at the Perth iteration. The intricate fibreglass sculpture referenced the harsh journey endured by female convicts on the First Fleet and the namesake love tokens that were inscribed with messages from loved ones left behind. Leaden Hearts subsequently made the voyage to the sparkling stretch of coastline along Sydney’s eastern suburbs for Sculpture by the Sea in Bondi.

Just last year, the artist had a second work – a reflective steel sculpture entitled Waiting In The Wings – installed on a grassy knoll at Sculpture By The Sea in Perth as a striking symbol of hope for a better future.

For Denise, her artmaking practice and family life are entwined. She often has her grandchildren experimenting alongside her in the hope that she will instill the same love of art that her grandmother, a self-taught painter, inspired in her. And it’s not just her grandchildren that Denise welcomes into her studio. She also generously extends the space to emerging artists and students from Edith Cowan University, where she works as an arts technician and sessional lecturer.

Currently, Denise is busy preparing her submission for the 2019 edition of Sculpture by the Sea. This time, the artist’s continual process of reinvention has led her to the creation of SEQUIN_tial Reflection, a large-scale kinetic work that will sit and respond to the environmental conditions along Perth’s Cottesloe foreshore.

“[My studio in Perth] is a major part of my home and is deliberately set up to be comfortable and inspiring, giving me a sanctuary in which to complete my art,” says Denise. This private sanctuary is especially positioned to overlook the artist’s garden and is outfitted with lush tones, patterned rugs, and an eclectic collection of objects and images.

A self-confessed “24/7 creative”, the artist is often in her studio from early in the day and works on multiple projects at once. For large-scale sculptures she begins with a smaller maquette to experiment with her ideas in a low-risk setting.

“I have always considered myself a maker and enjoy creating art for public sculpture exhibitions as well as specialised, hand-crafted art works. My current practice is primarily focused on works that translate textiles-based research into handcrafted art,” she says. “My work is often labour-intensive and I am meticulous in the making process, whether I am hand-crafting copper shim or applying layers of frit glass into molds. My work is delicate, complex and unapologetically decorative.”

These decorative details form the core of Denise’s practice; a dedication to the exploration of patterns, structures and concepts from a feminine perspective.

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