Alicia Penalba
(1913-1982, Buenos Aires, Argentina)
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1913, Alicia Penalba spent much of her childhood in Chile. Although she lived in Paris for most of her adult life, her work remained deeply influenced by the landscapes of her youth. At age sixteen, Penalba studied art at the Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes Ernesto de la Carcova in Buenos Aires. She moved to France in 1948 when she received a scholarship to study printmaking at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Penalba studied with sculptor Honorio Garcia Condoy, and in 1950, while studying with Ossip Zadkine at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, Penalba changed her focus entirely to sculpture.

When she created her first nonfigurative work in 1951, she destroyed much of her previous work, desiring to start an entirely new series of sculptures. She began to create totemic, abstract, vertical sculptures that she named after animals, plant material, and natural forces. Although critics often assumed these forms were abstract representations of the subjects named in their titles, Penalba explained her work as expressions of spiritualized natural and erotic forms, what she believed to be the sources of creation.

During the 1960s, Penalba abandoned her series of vertical sculptures, deciding to work more horizontally. In her later works, she experimented with creating airier, monumental works that could be pierced by light from all directions. Still inspired by her native landscape, the curvilinear forms and angular protrusions in these sculptures reflected the rocky outcroppings of the Chilean cordillera landscape. Although often cast in metal, concrete, and polyester, the final forms retained the earthy quality of Penalba’s favored material, clay.

Alicia Penalba died in Paris in 1982. During her artistic career, she created work in a variety of materials, including prints and designs for jewelry and vases; however, she remains best known for her sculptural achievement. Her work continues to be recognized for its evocative, natural beauty. Her monumental, abstract sculptures endure as works of public art, while her smaller works continue to be appreciated in exhibitions and private collections.