Penrose Examines the Power of Nature with a Double Feature of Invention
by Bruce Helander
The artist begins his journey by exploring surfaces with elementary position marks he later expands. Then he presents a marriage of carefully mixed acrylic paints that seem to have an affection and natural attraction to those non-organic surfaces. After he has laid down the basic elements of his composition (often based on memory or dream cloud formations and waterway edges, which add a colorful reflective spirit), Clem Penrose incorporates ancient myths into his paintings. He examines the power of nature with a double feature of invention, utilizing lighting and tornadoes that at the same time form kinds of abstract, stick-figure shapes with meandering tails, which can disappear and reappear depending on barometric pressure. In another amazing picture entitled Wolf Moon, Penrose sets up a clever night scene, where midnight trees are silhouetted against a mysterious and provocative sky, convincing the viewer that the clouds from the head of a wolf howling at the moon. All of his works have the distinct flavor of the extraordinary movement of light. His newest works reflect his recent residency in Palm Beach, where the Intracostal Waterway and powerful Atlantic Ocean seem to have a gravitational pull on his creative impulses. Down where the sea kisses the shore, his visionary expressions are exemplified within his paintings, such as Islamorada - The Purple Isle and Standing Mandela. Reflecting on natural beauty manages to conjure up all the experiences of his past, while dexterity and imagination spin it back to the picture plane. Deliberate sharp edges bring a peculiar and convincing separation between foreground and background, adding a realistic sense of space.
Although raised in the strongly artisan city of New Orleans, Clem Penrose inherited prominent Posey County lineage through his mother's family as the great-great-great grandson of Welsh philanthropist Robert Owen, who was a legendary patron of social issues and champion of the arts. Growing up in a town know for its distinctive music and support for artists ventures, and due to his unique heritage, he was able to acquire direction from an intuitive spirit he carried with him as a young boy. He sharpened his skills as an artist and opened his eyes to the universe of artistic license in a number of directions. He was privileged to pursue a college education in the fine arts, and like many multi-talented art school graduates, he began to put pen to paper, not for drawing and still life, but for jotting down musical scores as a country-blues songwriter in the 60s. Penrose was weaving together many leading-edge notions from an artist’s point of view.
After years on the road as a song-writing troubadour, and employing the necessary dedication it takes, Clem followed a new direction. He returned to New Harmony in the early 70s during a period of restoration and renovation – a place where an artist with multiple skills for architectural drawing was in demand. In this fresh environment, Penrose's innovation flourished as he continued his studio work while writing and performing music. Clem continued applying his multitude of visual and audio talents to opportunities that came his way. Refining his style and dexterity of craftsmanship in his paintings while expanding his creative palette with commercial work from agencies and layout design, just like Pop Artist James Rosenquist, he found work as a sign painter, which would later become another valuable tool in his repertoire. As an all-around artist he continued living by his brush through the avocation of sign painting, which developed into a great love.
In the artist’s 2009 series exhibited at the Paul Fisher Gallery in West Palm Beach, Penrose has employed a 4' x 8' sheet of thin aluminum, which is cut into 30" x 30" squares, as a format comfortably fitting his compositions. The surfaces are primed and sprayed on with automotive epoxy paint, which establishes a substrata utilizing the most advanced technological products of today's painting industry. He then composes his designs with water-based acrylic air brush paint sprayed and brushed in layers of glaze that emulate the shimmering light he chases. When his designs are complete, he applies a clear coat, hermetically sealing the composition with varying degrees of gloss or matte finish, dictated by the artist's intention as it merges.
Like so many mature professional artists, Clement Penrose has combined his life experiences and his talented command of so many different disciplines into a concentrated, recognizable and iconic style of contemporary painting that is at once both unique and memorable. As this bonafide renaissance man continues on a meandering road of discovery and invention with his work, the results will no doubt bring a smile to our faces and a new confidence in Penrose's natural ability to portray an illustrated dream-like landscape with panache to an unconventional "canvas" that is an inspiration to all who appreciate the fascinating visual poetry he is creating. Confidently combining the elements of earth, wind, fire and sky above, the artist turns the ordinary into scenes that are idealistically distinct, while as an author he becomes a defacto visual commentator for documenting our environment, bringing novel meaning to the phrase New Harmony, his beloved home and the bastion of his heritage.
-Bruce Helander is an artist and curator who writes on art. He is the former Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs for the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. His most recent book, Learning to See – An Artist's View on Contemporary Artists from Artschwager to Zakanitch, was named an Indie Awards Finalist in Art Books.