Penelope Stewart’s multi-disciplinary practice, encompassing sculpture, photomedia and works on paper is primarily the making of expansive installations that develop in situ and in close interaction to the surrounding environs. Many of these interventions have explored the beehive metaphor in architecture through the creation of spaces constructed of beeswax. These interventions create connections between the symbolic, political and artistic spin-offs of the beehive, an eco-morphology that contemplates the hive, hive culture, desire and loss as metaphor for our utopian aspirations to return to the garden. More recently Stewart has been expanding this interest to include the garden as a central motif looking at the history of landscape architecture, archives and arcadian visions.
Whether it has been historic sites such as Musée Barthétè, a tile museum in France, or Dawson College’s Peace Garden, Montreal, or a museum like the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, her intentions are to create sensory spaces, haptic experiences, transforming our perceptions and possible readings of space, time and memory.
Stewart was born in Montréal, Québec. She received a BFA from York University, Toronto and an MFA from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Stewart is the recipient of numerous grants and awards from the Toronto, Ontario and Canada Arts Council’s. Further, Stewart’s large-scale photographs received First Prize at Photo-Op, Toronto, and at the prestigious Centre for the Perceptual Arts, (CEPA), New York. In 2010 she was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts (RCA).
Stewart’s work has been exhibited since 1990 with key solo exhibitions in Canada, Australia, France, Czech Republic and the US including such notable institutions as The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo New York; Musée d’Art de Joliette, Québec; Ganna Walska Lotusland, Montecito, California; Musée Barthétè, Boussan, France; Koffler Gallery, Toronto; Oakville Galleries, Ontario; Tom Thomson Art Gallery, Ontario; The Military Museums, Alberta; ACT Design Museum Canberra, Australia; Poimena Gallery, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia. Stewart has participated in numerous international residencies in Australia, France, The Netherlands, Italy, the US and Canada.
In 2016 Stewart received a commission for Maison Alexandre in Paris, France and was shortlisted for a CAMH Public Art commission. During 2017 Stewart was in residence at Linda Duvall’s/PAVED Gallery, Saskatoon, In The Hole residency followed by a residency/exhibition in Medicine Hat, Alberta at the Medalta Museum. In 2018-19 Stewart was awarded the Nick Novak Fellowship at Open Studio, Toronto which allowed her a full year of intensive research and the creation of a new body of work showcased at Open Studio. In the spring of 2019 Stewart returned to France to create a second architectural installation, ‘a primitive hut’ at Musée Barthète. While in residence Stewart divided her time between wandering and foraging in the vast gardens of the estate and exploring deep into the workrooms of the museum. Each experience became a fold in thinking about archives, gardens, and collections as haptic spaces. 2021 finds Stewart working on projects for The Power Plant’s Field Trip program, a residency again in France followed by a project in Barcelona.
Anthologies such as Utopic Impulses feature Stewart’s work in an essay by Amy Gogarty; Craftwork as Problem Solving: Ethnographic Studies of Design and Making in an essay by Jenn Law; and Encaustic Works with an essay by Michele Stuart. CRAM International (2012) launched Haptic Exchanges, a bilingual catalogue which maps Stewart’s large beeswax sensory architectures with essays by Suzanne Danis, Musée Barthétè, Heather Pesanti, Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Marnie Fleming, Oakville Galleries. In 2014 CRAM International, The Tree Museum and Lotusland co-published Chasing Daphne an extensive catalogue chronicling her Artist in Residence experience at Ganna Walska Lotusland, with an interview by Anne O’Callaghan and an essay by Jenn Law. Also, in the summer of 2014 the Koffler Gallery, Toronto hosted a major beeswax intervention Vanitas accompanied by an elaborate brochure with text by Jenn Law. Dawson College, Montreal 2016 produced Penelope Stewart Projects, a catalogue of her visiting artist projects for that year. Botanique, the most recent catalogue features the work created under the auspices of the Nick Novak Fellowship alongside an essay by Jennifer Rudder. Other publications and reviews of Stewart’s projects are found in books, newspapers and periodicals such as The Toronto Star, Globe & Mail, The Wall Street Journal, Canadian Architect, Canadian Art, Espace, Ceramic Review and World Art.
In the autumn of 2018, Stewart saw the culmination of a publishing collaboration with artist and writer Jenn Law; art+reading, the first issue of a serial journal exploring the interconnection with reading and making and is the first initiative of a new platform that seeks to understand reading as material practice. Stewart and Law launched their project at Impact 10 Encuentro/Encounter Conference where they were presenters. This was followed by a Canadian launch at Open Studio in Toronto and 3/editions at The Toronto Art Fair. While the first edition explored ‘rupture’, the second edition addressed notions of ‘entanglement’. This issue was launched at the Power Plant, Toronto and featured a performance by Sound System. Stewart and Law are concurrently working on the third and fourth edition of art+reading.