Penny D Jones – Artist and Film-Maker
Artist and film-maker Penny D Jones is a formidable woman – unstoppable, even. She went ahead with the interview we had arranged, despite the fact that she was only recently discharged from hospital where she was being treated for pleurisy and pneumonia.
“I was in a Covid ward,” she said matter-of-factly. “But I haven’t got Covid.”
Born in Hampstead, north London, in 1949, Penny had a professional career as a social worker. But she has always had a strong connection with Pembrokeshire and has always been a free spirit drawn to the creative process.
Her father had a holiday home in Pembrokeshire and she first moved here in 1978. In 1985 she moved to work in Ireland, returning to Wales in 1992. Her home is in Newport where she is well-known as an original visual artist.
Penny’s feminism is a thread that has run strongly through her life and her work.
“I was 28 when my mother killed herself,” she says. “She was very depressed and I always vowed and that I would never be like her.
“And she made me promise to have a child and not to worry if I did not want to get married, and not to worry if I wanted to work.”
Her father had different ideas, though: “He was not at all happy when he learned that I was pregnant… and we really didn’t speak again after that.”
She went on to bring up her son alone… and, she says, “he’s fine”.
After school, Penny had done a degree in philosophy and sociology at the University of East Anglia. When she stopped working in 1999, she studied for a BA in fine art painting at the West Wales School of the Arts (where she had already done an art and design course), followed by an MA in contemporary fine art at Sheffield Hallam University, and a PGCE teaching qualification at Coleg Ceredigion, Aberystwyth.
Her latest project is editing down her 90-minute Lavender Lady/Ladi’r Lafant film from 2013 to make a new 20-minute version. It features older women reminiscing about their younger lives.
Women voicing their views and talking about their experiences have been a feature of Penny’s films, along with her own Welsh travels, and sometimes just her being Penny D Jones (as in the wonderful silent film Rant – almost Chaplin-esque stand-up comedy with no words).
She also stars – swimming unashamedly naked – in her lovely little film Baptism/Bedydd. Like us at Pembrokeshire.Online, she is very much into outdoor swimming. In one two-year period a while back she swam in the sea every single day either at Newport or nearby Cwym-yr-Eglwys.
What’s next? “I have got to make a film about the indigenous people in Pembrokeshire. It will be born out of a lot of other films I’ve done and it will look at… their habits.”
So how would she describe Pembrokeshire’s “indigenous people”? “They are very….” That sentence was never finished but Penny agreed that the local folk can be not always welcoming to incomers. “From 1979 onwards, I learned to speak Welsh,” she says, “and that made a difference. Plus my father was Welsh, from Cardiff, and of course I had the name of Jones.”
Another ambition she has is to make a film about women walking. “I have just finished reading a book about women walkers called Wanderers [by Kerri Andrews].
Female walkers are different to male walkers, says Penny. In what way? She hints at an answer by citing Dorothy Wordsworth. Dorothy (one of ten women featured in Wanderers) had a deep and poetic appreciation of nature and appears to have been a gifted writer, but it was her brother William who took her ideas (see what Dorothy had to say about daffodils) and took the credit.
And then there is Penny’s painting. “Painting and filmmaking are both equally important to me,” she says. “I used to just paint scenes around here and exhibit them, and I used to sell pictures of houses and so on. Then I did some art classes and my painting became quite abstract.
“I also belong to the group Six in Conversation which is a group of female abstract artists. We did have an exhibition in Neath and we are now preparing postcards, hopefully for another exhibition.”
You can find out more about Penny’s paintings, films and many other projects on her website at www.pennydjones.cymru.