There’s nothing romantic about a fluorescent sign advertising donuts on the side of the highway, or an old jet ski rusting away on a pockmarked lawn. But in Rod Penner’s paintings, these aren’t so much throwaway images of scrappy small towns as they are postcards from a Cormac McCarthy novel. Each one–at 6-by-6 inches–captures a quiet location in the Texas Hill Country with painstaking precision and surprising beauty.
Texas-based Penner purposefully chooses unassuming places as the focus of his hyperrealistic paintings. Think empty roads, boarded-up tire shops, abandoned main streets. His subjects are “common objects or buildings that are so familiar they’ve become invisible,” he says. “Under certain conditions, under a certain light, [they] possess an inherent beauty.”
To begin each micro-painting Penner snaps several photographs, ideally at dawn or dusk on a Sunday, because there are fewer people or vehicles around to obstruct his view. Then he’ll meticulously document the location, with sketches and videos, to create a small archive of visual references.
His Chuck Close-like attention to detail is particularly evident when his paintings are viewed as a series in a gallery setting. Penner’s intricacy fools the viewer into thinking they’ve stumbled onto an exhibit of 35-millimeter film prints. The minutia is also a neat trick on Penner’s part: he’s creating a relationship with the viewer by forcing them to inch closer and closer. “It’s a personal, intimate experience that cannot be shared with another viewer at any one point in time,” he says.