The landscapes that attract Canadian painter Ross Penhall’s attention almost invariably represent an intersection between the natural world and the people who inhabit it: paths meander through fields of manicured grass; neatly-trimmed hedges follow the curve of a road. The paths visible in nearly all his paintings might divide and cut through the landscape, but they also serve to draw us into it, creating a feeling of intimacy. Penhall’s compositions exude an air of tranquility derived from the near-perfect equilibrium of natural and unnatural elements.
Like the works of Canada’s famous Group of Seven (1920-31), whose members boldly broke from traditional European landscape painting to forge a style uniquely suited to their northern surroundings, Penhall’s forms are stylized, his colors saturated. His slight alteration of the landscape adds yet another layer to the man-nature dichotomy: rather than depicting a scene with rigid realism, he transforms it into something entirely new through an intricate process of visual editing. He is fascinated by the ways in which we bend nature to suit our needs--the paths we carve through it, the speed with which we traverse it, the manicured shapes we give it. Though he is intensely interested in the displacement of nature, the manmade objects in his work often end up enhancing the overall aesthetic effect.
The evidence of this fascination is everywhere in his latest body of work. Like the environments they depict, these new paintings have a quality that is equally subtle and complex, powerful and serene. The new paintings are marked by a sense of playfulness—a desire to take the landscape apart and reassemble it in a way that feels entirely fresh. A testament to Penhall’s inventive spirit, this new direction provides clear evidence of the artist’s fertile, ever-expanding practice.