We’re guessing the world would look a whole lot different if bad ass women like Penelope Gazin had been well-represented in animation and comics from the start. But Gazin has her hand in so many projects, it’s almost as if she’s single-handedly trying to make up for lost time. Her paintings, drawings, and animations have a unique staying power, and will almost certainly end up plastered all over the walls of your skull if you spend some time with them. Gazin’s sassy, hilarious, and sometimes twisted images of alien babes and monster princesses don’t depart amicably.
You probably know Penelope Gazin from her Etsy store Penelope Meatloaf, a platform that keeps her busy, and not to mention gets her name out there, by demanding massive numbers of enamel pins, patches, and zines bearing her creatures and slogans like “Eat it or Beat it.” Or perhaps you’re familiar with her work as one of her 9,000 or so Instagram followers, or even as a reader of publications like Vice, where you’ll find a number of Penelope’s illustrations.
But actually it’s animation that’s consumed most of Penelope’s waking hours in the past few years. Before finding her “dream job” working as an animator for Fox ADHD, the mega-network’s answer to Adult Swim, you could find Gazin whittling away the surface of an animation tablet for Robot Chicken.
Penelope loved her job at Fox but recently decided to walk away from it all. “There was a certain point where I felt like I had three full-time jobs, because animation jobs are notoriously long hours,” she explained. “So I was working full time, then doing Etsy, and doing freelance illustrations for Vice Magazine, and then I was like, I don’t need to be doing this to myself right now.”
Instead, Gazin decided it was time to put more effort into her work as an independent artist. In April, she packed up her things and moved back to the East Coast where she’s from.
“I mean, I like LA, it’s got a lot of great things, but I definitely like New York a lot better,” she explained. “It’s got a very different vibe that I feel like I fit in with. I just started meeting people, but I feel like I’m more involved in the artist community here than I ever was in LA.”
Wait, wasn’t LA supposed to be the new place to be for artists? “I wonder if they’ll be back?” Gazin mused. “Like, in two years I bet there will be a big reverse migration.”
But for now, we found Gazin holding it down at her apartment in Williamsburg, a place we were almost sure all the artists had left. But actually, Gazin’s fashioned her apartment into a small studio space. So there’s at least one artist here and that just means she’s smashing trends in yet another way.
Now that she’s fully devoted to her own work– though still doing freelancing gigs here and there, including a promo-animation for Straight Outta Compton– there’s no better time for an art show. And on that note, no better name for a solo show than “Penelope Gazin’s Solo Show,” which opens Friday September 4th at Superchief Gallery in Greenpoint.
Penelope’s raw-power attitude comes through loud and clear in her work. Her subjects, mostly women (or some variation thereof) seem totally fine with secreting ooze-from-the black-lagoon out of every orifice of their body, and free from embarrassment about sporting third, fourth, and fifth eyes or pimples that have pustulated into full-on teratomas. In fact they’re smiling and maintaing excellent grooming in the process.
It’s not surprising then to hear Penelope say she’s inspired by “cheesy horror movies,” but a little shocking to hear real horror actually freaks her out. “I love horror, but I’m a baby,” she explained. “I can’t watch like Japanese horror films, sometimes they’ll make me cry. But I can handle B-horror movies, that stuff’s great.”
And that eye toward pulpy, B-movie aesthetic is exactly what makes Penelope’s images less icky-gross and more campy-cool.
“When I do use reference photos, I almost exclusively use photos from amateur erotica from the ‘60s and earlier, which is why the women tend to have lots of hair,” she explained. “I often scour Tumblr for images and it’s usually a look in a woman’s eye that draws me in.”
But it’s not just the bouffants and beehives that Penelope’s lifted from erotica, her images can be pretty steamy too. Bondage, masturbation, even the bawdiest of them all– old-fashioned romance– are all fair game. “I’m most fascinated by my own sexuality,” Penelope explained of her muses.
Though unless you’re a priest, there’s no way you’d consider Penelope’s work pornographic. There’s real emotion here: power, lust, love, and murderous rage. “One of the reasons I like to do art is because I’m not great at talking about my feelings, and so I use art to express emotion,” Penelope explained.
For all the sexual freedom and freewheeling satire of her work, Gazin said it was only very recently that she finally became “uninhibited” in her creative process.
“When I was in high school it was like, ‘OK, you can be a little weird, but don’t do exactly what you want because you’re going to freak people out,'” she recalled, unraveling a memory of an art teacher stomping on one of her pieces. “My sense of humor is kind of dark sometimes. I would sort of censor myself.”
But an epiphany changed her practice altogether. “There was a certain point, maybe two years ago, when I was like: It’s my job to be myself,” she said. “People have responded so well, the more I’ve opened up my brain and shared it.”
However if there’s one thing Penelope might describe as off-limits, it’s men. With a few exceptions, her drawings and paintings are notably without dudes, a completely conscious decision. “Yeah, I find drawing men really boring. I rarely do it,” she explained. “Men’s bodies too.”
Despite having moved away from working for other people, Penelope still has a funny habit of calling her work “illustration,” even though most of the stuff hanging in her room aren’t the results of a commission. “Because they’re on paper and they’re smaller, I tend to think of them as illustrations,” she explained.
This mental entanglement with illustration might have something to do with the fact that Penelope’s work is imbued with a sense of humor lost on many Serious Painters. Her pieces have way more in common with the blood-n-guts-n-vomit world of animation and punk art’s unique blend of criticism and nihilism than with what you’ll run into at traditional white-walled galleries.
Penelope’s obsession with kitsch and low-brow art conceals the fact that she’s actually spent some serious time with Serious Art and even toyed with the idea of not doing art at all. “I always said, ‘I’m not going to be an artist,’ mainly because I saw what my mom’s life was like. She just worked in her studio and I always thought I needed more structure than that,” she recalled. “So it’s funny how I ended up like this.”
In fact, Gazin comes from a long line of creatives. Her mother’s a professional figurative painter, her grandfather has portraits hanging in the Smithsonian, her grandmother was an architect, and her brother, Nick Gazin, is a writer for Vice and does illustration work too. “Actually everyone’s a professional writer or a professional artist in my family,” she concluded.
“All I used to do were these large oil paintings,” Gazin recalled. “You’re supposed to get more patience as an artist as you grow older, but I think I’m slowly getting less and less patient. I just need that immediate validation, that art-high within one sitting.” In fact, Gazin said that’s why her paintings are so small, so that she can complete them within a single work session.
As much as Gazin’s gone against the grain of her family in stylistic respects, her family life’s had an influence on her work to some extent. There’s an undeniable playfulness and youthful element in Gazin’s work, and it’s easy to imagine angsty teens flipping out over the stuff. “I had a pretty whimsical childhood in some ways, and I guess I have a lot of funny childhood stories,” she agreed. “I think I recognize certain ridiculous aspects of my childhood and use them.”
But while the comic-book quality of her work can make it feel sort of adolescent, Penelope takes that mischievousness and blows it up into something far from naive. In many ways, her work embraces controversy while flirting with the socio-political.
When Penelope posted her “Coolumbine” piece on Instagram she recalled getting some pretty pissed-off responses. “But I get so excited when someone insults me on my Instagram, it means you’re doing something right,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m not getting enough, it feels weird when I go too long without someone trying to knock me down.”
This disregard for her detractors and tendency to feed off negative vibes, is partially what Penelope feels contributed to her doing well in animation. “I personally felt very comfortable in animation, I felt like I flourished,” she said. “At Fox I was like, ‘I’m gonna do whatever I want, and if you don’t like that, you can fire me,’ but they responded well to it.”
Penelope says she learned this way of dealing with a male-dominated industry from growing up with brothers but also from women she admires. “One of the women at Fox, she had a little bit of a bad rap, and so many men were afraid of her, which I thought was great. People were like, ‘Oh, she’s a bitch,'” she recalled. “But I’d rather be a bitch any day than be meek. I admire bitches. I admire women who men refer to as ‘bitches’ because it means that they’re doing something right, they’re being bold, and not being what anyone wants them to be.”
Compromise is not something Gazin considers often. “I try to make art as if I were living in a cave,” she explained. “If no one ever saw my art, it would still look very similar. And whenever I don’t do that, I always end up messing up a painting or giving up on a painting.”
But there are some instances where she’s been forced to censor her work, at least by invoking digital black bars or confusing blur effects. Gazin’s been a loyal seller on Etsy for years, but said some of her images led the apparently Puritan corporation to close her shop several times.
“They shut my shop down for three days because I was selling those Coolumbine pins,” she explained. “And I had one figure painting which was probably the least pornographic art piece I’ve ever made in my whole life and there was like a hint of pubic hair and, again, they shut down my shop.”
Penelope doesn’t exactly live to shock, but she does find censorship like this unworkable. After Etsy issued a crackdown on witchy shops (following in the footsteps of Ebay), Penelope teamed up with her business-minded friend Kate Dwyer (who also plays in a band called Feeling Feelings) to found an alternative to the original crafty, sell-your-own wares site. Witchsy— as in Etsy for Witches– is due to launch soon.
“It’s going to be a lot like Etsy, but no censorship,” Penelope explained. “You can’t sell bongs anymore, anything drug paraphernalia related [on Etsy]. You have to put black bars over any nudity. And that’s fine, I respect their right to run their company any way they want, but it kind of started out as an artist thing and now they’re appealing to the general public and so it also has to be friendly for grandmas in Virginia who want to buy knit arm cozies or something.”
And while Witchsy seems like it’s lightyears away from Penelope’s career path as an animator and an artist, she’s pretty OK with that. “Having an Adult Swim show of my own was definitely my ultimate goal when I was in animation school. I still have an idea for a show I want to pitch, but that’s just one thing on my long bucket list of things,” she explained. “I sort of just wanna do and try everything.”