Miniature Paintings Pay Homage To Small Town Life

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.

Penner’s paintings are on view at Ameringer McEnery Yohe gallery in New York City, until November 23.MR