7/11/09 2:42 PM
The strange, luscious, candy-colored watercolors that Liz Penniman produces seem the stuff of cowboy surrealists and hallucinating hikers, with their acid greens and magenta purples, dusty blues and mustard yellows. Phallic shapes float overtop loopy fires, while bleeding figures lie underneath stringy sunsets. Despite their dreamlike qualities, these pictures come complete with titles that link them to specific landscapes—“Alum Rock Park,” for one, “Boreal Ridge,” for another. And while it is completely believable that these places inspired the images that take their names, how much the better that they clearly inspired so much more than mere picturesque reproduction. Instead, Penniman pays tribute to the otherworldly strangeness and inexplicable beauty of wild places, not by trying to imitate them with pigment and brush, but rather by doing something much more challenging, rewarding and, in the end, true. Because no matter how talented the realist painter, he or she will never, ever succeed in capturing anything of the spirit of a natural site; the smart and brave artist will instead choose the opposite tack, as Penniman has done, and leave realism to the winds.