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t h e  l i t t l e s . . .

Beyond the Brushstroke

“The painting is not on a surface, but on a plane which is imagined. It moves in a mind. It is not there physically at all. It is an illusion, a piece of magic, so that what you see is not what you see.” -Philip Guston

Traditionally, one thinks of Ross Penhall as a painter of landscapes – the Prairies, West Coast mountains, trees and fields.

With this series of new paintings, Penhall’s forms, light, shadow and colours create a place of tension between the idyllic and the ominous and take us to an imagined place beyond the painting’s surface and brushstrokes.

Whether we are in front of a painting of the Prairies or a tree-lined park, we are immediately struck by the play of sweeping light. As much as they are suffused with light, these paintings are also filled with shadows. What is lurking beyond the cadmium green lawns and vibrant orange and soothing pink trees? These places may seem familiar to us, but we cannot find them in the physical world. These are places of the imagination filled with a tension between the light and dark, between an optimism and a looming sense of mystery or foreboding. As well, these spaces are void of human figures. They are like stage sets awaiting the actors to inhabit them. We are those actors, drawn by the light and shadows into an imaginary place – a place of interiority – a mindscape.

The interiority of these paintings stands in contrast to the Prairie paintings where the sky dominates. When we consider the Prairie paintings, we no longer have stage sets awaiting actors. Instead, vast skies occupy the majority of the canvas and render the Prairie almost insignificant. The great power of these paintings is the sky. Very different from sky treatments by other traditional landscape painters who are much more literal (Dorothy Knowles comes to mind), Penhall’s skies hold a force that almost threatens the land and draws us into an otherworldly atmosphere.

In Penhall’s paintings, what we see is not all there is. These paintings invite us to move beyond the surface of the raking light, the forms and the colourful trees. We can never fully comprehend these paintings, yet we are captivated by them. In our inability to comprehend all that we see, we acknowledge that Penhall’s paintings take us beyond the brushstroke. These paintings move in our minds.

Ann Webb | July 28, 2021