It is significant that Ross Penhall’s practice of painting, drawing, and printmaking developed alongside his work as a firefighter for the District of West Vancouver. As someone who has spent a large portion of his career battling urban and interface fires in the North Shore’s mountainous terrain, Penhall is very familiar with the risks involved when treading into nature. This exhibition explores the ways in which Penhall translates these risks into his works, transforming his own personal tension into compositional tensions.
Through this exhibition, we can look with fresh eyes on Canada’s natural landscapes. Penhall’s West Coast seascapes offer dark skies, and the inky, turbid waters warn of unrest. Within the tightly packed mountains of his coastal works, narrow walls encroach on the viewer and the skies at the top of the compositions taper to a mere slit at the horizon line. In recent years, the geographical focus of Penhall’s work has stretched across Canada to incorporate the open vistas of the Prairies and the distinct coastline of the East Coast. In contrast to his West Coast works, they suggest the promise of the scent of grass and a light breeze.
The long tradition of landscape painting in North America is laden with complexities. Like the Romantic painters who preceded him, Penhall’s works display an overwhelming sense of awe for untamed settings and a natural comfort in pastoral scenes. The further east one goes, the more the landscape has been shaped by settlers. It is not a coincidence that this cultivated land should feel more comfortable to Penhall and, by extension, his viewers. Penhall readily recognizes his role as a landscape painter working on stolen Indigenous lands. Through his experience both working in and being inspired by the natural world, he holds deep respect for the environment, recognizing that nature is beyond human control.
Hanging alongside Penhall’s large-scale works are his recent panel studies, most of which were painted en plein air. Unfiltered, these views are more loosely painted than his larger, studio- produced works. It is as if, in removing himself from his traditional studio practice, Penhall is also lessening the control that he brings to his work. At a time when the natural world is increasingly imperilled by human action, it is a small joy to witness Penhall recognize that we, too, should loosen our grip on a natural world that defies human order.
We are also pleased to release Entrance, a new Artist Editions Print by Ross Penhall,
which will be available for purchase from October 3rd.
About the Print
This print is based on a larger painted composition by Penhall, also called Entrance, which depicts a view off Dent Island, north of the Straight of Georgia. It took Penhall approximately two weeks to prepare the plate, which was printed by Peter Braune and Sarah Madgin at New Leaf Editions in Vancouver. Penhall, who has made prints using various techniques since the 1980s, was focused on making this print tonally dark, with a deeply textured surface. The preparation of the plate was an extremely laborious process, requiring the artist to undertake significant burnishing and careful drypoint work. Penhall, who has not made a print in over five years, typically produces prints to give as gifts for friends. As with Entrance, his prints are an ideal opportunity for him to experiment with different techniques, making them dramatically different from his paintings.
About the Artist
Ross Penhall was born in 1959 in West Vancouver, British Columbia. He attended the studio art program at Capilano College and studied print making with Wayne Eastcott. Penhall continued his education in extra-sessional studies at the Emily Carr College of Art. His work can be found in numerous private, corporate, and public collections in the United States and in Canada.
Drypoint, Aquatint, Chine-colle on paper
20 x 25 cm
Printed by Peter Braune and Sarah Madgin, New Leaf Editions, Vancouver
Edition of 34
All proceeds support the West Vancouver Art Museum.