Madeline Peckenpaugh


“There is no set timeline being an artist, you just have to trust yourself”

AT: Where are you from and how/why did you start engaging with art?

MP: I am from Milwaukee, WI, and lived in Philadelphia for most of my adult life. My parents are both painters, so I grew up within a house filled with art and where art was being made. I was able to witness what living life as an artist could be like. It just sort of naturally happened when I started making my own work.


AT: When did it become serious?

MP: It became serious when I began my art education at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. My father is one the founders of the school, and my mother was a student there. I decided to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia for my bachelors degree, and I just recently finished my masters degree at RISD. The conversations and connections with my peers and faculty from all schools really fed my work. I moved to Philadelphia at age 18, knowing that navigating a new environment would lead to new experiments within my work. That is when I started to realize how much my surroundings impacted my work- being uncomfortable and feeling new visual sensations. I take that discomfort into my practice everyday.


AT: Is there any person who has been significant in your breakthrough as an artist?

MP: I’d consider my personal “breakthrough” to happen when I was quite young. I was fascinated by the language of painting, seen through the context of my parents’ work. I certainly don’t think I’d be making the work I’m currently making without that early exposure. I still have continuous conversations about art with them, and it’s been interesting to see how my work has changed and transformed into a slight hybrid of both of them, just a whole lot messier. There have of course been many, many other people along the way that I owe gratitude towards, my dear friends and teachers who I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning from.


AT: What is your first approach to the work? How would you describe your practice?

MP: I try to start each painting differently, whether that means using different materials such as dyed paper or fabric, or something as simple as starting with a drawing or pattern. This immediately sets a challenge that I have to work through. Being surprised by my material and the endless images it can produce keeps my practice exciting and keeps me in the studio. I always have this burden of wanting to make a completely different painting than the last. This keeps my expectations high, which can be good because it actually makes the paintings less precious throughout the process. Another first approach to my work involves my photography practice. I take a lot of photos through the lens of the landscape. My paintings often mimic interconnected patterns, rhythms, light and pressure that is found in the natural world, and my photos mimic the natural world through the urban environment. These photos can help me at certain points throughout the process, mainly by slowing me down and introducing a more direct language into the painting.

Building a house, 2019, Oil on canvas, 68×59 inches.

AT: What do you aim to reach with your work?

MP: There is a certain immediate satisfaction I find when I take a photograph that is almost impossible to capture through painting. These two processes are so different, but I try to aim for this harmonious sensation that is found through the cropped lens. Not to say I want to replicate my photos by any means, but there is something so satisfying when I find shapes, line, color, texture, atmosphere etc that only work together when the larger expanding environment is cropped into its own new world. The context of the landscape surrounding this cropped reality can enter the painting (or photo), which can either disrupt the image or add a new narrative. I want the material manipulation to have its own narrative alongside the image.


AT: What are your favourite tools and materials for working?

MP: My favorite material is oil paint- it has a life of its own and continuously surprises me. You only really have so much control over it, and it usually dictates where the panting will go.


AT: What do you feel while you work? Do you usually think about the final outcome beforehand?

MP: I never know what the final outcome will be because I usually have to work through ten different paintings in order to get there. I’ve just learned to trust the process and to stop being so critical in the early stages.


AT: How do you understand that a work is finished?

MP: I know it’s finished when it stops asking me questions, and I stop questioning it.

Exhaustion, 2018, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 52×50 inches.
Red dawn, 2019, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 93×77 inches.

AT: Are there any artists who influenced your works? Why?

MP: There are many artists who have influenced me, to name a few: Mary Lovelace O’Neal, Tom Uttech, Per Kirkeby, Shara Hughes, Richard Aldrich, Rene Magritte, and Charline Von Heyl. Charline has been one of my biggest influences because I love how she is able to trick the viewer through image and material manipulation. I have to re-calibrate every time I see her paintings, and I admire how the formal relationships in her paintings never quite settle.


AT: How important is the role of social media for you?

MP: It has become more important than I expected or preferred it to be, but I think I’m able to maintain a healthy on/offline balance.


AT: As an artist, what is your point of view about the contemporary art system?

MP: That’s a complex question to give one solid answer to. I think a lot about the internet’s role in the system, and how it can easily sway the ideas and outcomes of an artists practice. This is obviously more of a reality in our current situation.

Heat retention, 2019, Oil, acrylic, paper on canvas, 60×56 inches.
Gathering around, 2019, Oil, acrylic, paper on canvas, 50×48 inches.

AT: What do you find to be the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing art? What is the most rewarding part of working as an artist?

MP: I think the most challenging and most rewarding part for me can be the unknown. There is no set timeline being an artist, you just have to trust yourself.


AT: What do you do besides art?

MP: I’m a pretty big thrifter. I love giving new life or context to discarded objects and clothing.


AT: What are your goals and expectations for the future?

MP: My goals are to maintain and continue to expand my practice! I’m trying to not have any expectations, especially in our current climate… I’m looking forward to 2021.

Blue field, 2019, Oil on canvas, 80×66 inches.
"My paintings are depictions of metaphorical landscapes, created through the force and tension of nature and material. The illusion of space within each painting is interrupted by the materials being used, and the narrative of the image is found through the process of that exploration. The landscape is felt through various forces of nature, such as: life-cycles, transitional states of weather, and gravity". 

Madeline Peckenpaugh (b. 1991) is an American painter currently living and working in Milwaukee, USA.