The challenge of painting people and capturing the emotions the face and body can provide

Gavin Penn, an artist based in Northumberland, enjoys the challenge of painting people and capturing the emotions the face and body can provide.

His paintings are all about people and stories. EP recently spoke to Gavin to discover how he develops engaging narratives in an intuitive way.

The artist was born in Scotland but moved to Northumberland when he was ten. He won a place at Edinburgh College of Art and his degree focused on North East football fans. His work focuses on people, feelings and emotion and paints from his gallery in Northumberland.

Gavin has produced a series of paintings of dancers with the inspiration coming from his girlfriend who at the time was a dancer. He explains, “I didn’t really know anything about dancing and the performances so went along to watch …and thought “wow” everything is here for painting, lighting, drama, atmosphere, costumes, beautiful people everything needed to produce great paintings. I went on to create a whole series of paintings working with various dance companies such as Ballet Central, Mathew Borne and Northern Ballet Theatre. These paintings proved very popular and some were published and sold as prints in various stores.”

Shoes £1400

“I have always enjoyed the challenge of painting people and capturing the emotions that the face and body can provide.” says Gavin when asked why he chooses to focus on this area. He adds “In painting faces the smallest brush stroke can change the expression. My paintings engage the viewer to create the story of the painting, “What’s that person thinking?” and allow the viewer to have their own interpretation into the image on the canvas. Often a viewer will have an emotional reaction to my painting, “I can relate to that,” “That’s just like…” I love that”. When you get an emotional reaction to a painting it is very satisfying.”

Gavin uses strong light, clear colours and subtle emphasis

“When I plan a painting its strange because I build the image up in my mind and think about how I am going to tackle the painting. I don’t do many sketches to prepare. The priming of the canvas and even putting the paints out can be frustrating because I just want to get on and paint. When it comes to painting I go into a ‘zone’ where time passes quickly with intense focus. If the painting is going well you get a strange high! One of the nicest parts of having the finished painting is seeing people’s reactions often the paintings can evoke memories in them and I have had a few people crying.”

Movement £1200

Gavin doesn’t just paint dancers and is well known for his series of North England football fans. “The football supporter paintings were painted in the 90s. The art world seemed to be about, “Messy beds, lights that go on and off”. I wanted my paintings to be a reaction to this, real paintings of real people, doing what’s real to them. As in the ethos of Lowry or Norman Cornish. The football paintings were successful with several footballers and managers including Gareth Southgate having my work on their walls. I may go back to painting the football supporters one day. Another similar project is always a possibility. I always like a challenge, but at the moment I am enjoying painting the dancers.”

On Point £900

Zoot £900

To find out more about EP’s activity with art and to enquire into any of Gavin’s paintings please contact