Copper in the Arts

May 2011

Michael Worthington's Lucky Penny Art

By Ashley Morris

Lucky Penny Painting Las Vegas Lucky Penny Painting.

Photograph courtesy of Michael Worthington

A penny saved is a penny earned. And for self-described urban folk artist Michael Worthington, those earnings mean more than just dollars and cents. Through his popular lucky penny paintings, which first turned up on the streets of New York ten years ago, Worthington turns found copper pennies into expressions of art - and a statement of wealth.

The Brooklyn-based artist, who worked in the music industry finding talent for big record labels, often found himself in between jobs as the economy plummeted, and was picking up a penny when inspiration struck.

"New York is a wealthy city, but there is also so much poverty - there's no middle class," says Worthington. "I had just found a penny when it dawned on me; if you look at the world as art, everything is art. Seeing the money and having that connection of wealth and poverty, I realized that there was something I can make of this. So I sketched out some ideas and then it naturally started from there."

For Worthington, each of his lucky penny paintings tells a story. Each penny is carefully glued onto a 4-inch by 4-inch wooden block canvas, which Worthington paints with an abstract scene detailing the location where he found the penny. Worthington doesn't limit himself to New York; his lucky penny series has chronicles his travels all around the country. But, each penny has to be a true lucky penny (Lincoln side up) to be considered.

"I don't pick up face-down pennies," says Worthington. "It was funny, when I moved from Greenwich Village to Brooklyn, I kept finding face-down pennies and joked with someone that this must be a hard-on-your luck town, to which he said, 'Don't you think that means all the good luck pennies have already been picked up?'"

Michael Worthington with a Penny Painting Michael Worthington with a Penny Painting.

Photograph by Stefano Giovannini

For each piece, surrounds the penny with the words "Lucky Penny" and writes a number beneath, which is the number of the penny he found in the series. So far, Worthington has 500 in his coin collection and painted about 100. On the 1-inch side of the block, Worthington methodically writes the city and state of the penny finding, along with the date. He's created a sort of filing system, labeling each penny and putting them each in an envelope.

"It seems like the penny painting has an energy vibrating from the center," says Worthington. "When there's a wall of them, it looks interestingly obsessive."

Worthington picked up a penny near Nathan's on Coney Island, so he painted a combined color and black-and-white block stacked with hot dogs and French fries. Another, more serious piece was inspired by a penny found at the crime-infested corner of Myrtle and Prince streets in New York, complete with a spiral dripping blood.

Another penny is the centerpiece of a Las Vegas chip, with Sin City's nighttime skyline painted in the background. Akron, Ohio, has a penny centered among stacks of tires. And others feature foreign pennies from the Barbados aboard a ship sailing a clear-blue sea, Paris and Iceland.

"If you try to look for pennies, they don't turn up - it's sort of magical," says Worthington. "They all of a sudden will call out to me and then they appear."

Lucky Penny Painting Barbados Lucky Penny Painting.

Photograph courtesy of Michael Worthington

One rule: Worthington must be the penny finder; no one else. "It's my journey through life, so, no one else can just give me pennies."

Worthington, who majored in English and studied art as a minor in college, is thrilled that his "lucky penny" concept has been so well-received. The value of each painting ranges from $200 to $400. "It's just so neat that this was such a unique concept and it's been picked up nationally," he says. "I mean, there were just film crews coming to my studio. I guess everyone can connect to a penny, whether it has historical significance or it's sentimental. I love the fact that my paintings speak to people emotionally."

Worthington has no intentions of slowing down - as long as pennies are still being produced. However, he does admit that being married and having a 6-year-old son keeps him busy and depletes his energy at the end of the day at times.

When we interviewed, he was drumming up more business - and maybe finding a lucky penny or two - in Austin, Texas, during the South by Southwest Music Festival. "I'm talking to galleries in Austin and LA to show my work," says Worthington. "And my website will be built up by this summer, with postings of press and upcoming shows."

For now, his "Lucky Penny Paintings" are displayed in the front window of Smith Hanten, a real estate office in New York, as well as his studio in Brooklyn and various private collections.

Resources:

Michael Worthington, Brooklyn, NY, (718) 522-3385

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