Colin Pennock works intuitively, guided not by narrative but by the visceral act of painting. Harnessing the expressive power of oil, the artist externalises his inner cosmos in ways that are both gently private and vastly inclusive. The self-described “vortex” of Pennock’s psychic landscape is transcribed in poetic pieces; spectral shards of memory that splice into the picture plane. An urgency to record is sensed in Pennock’s community of marks, which crash into focus like a wave before softening into whitewash at the base of each picture. It’s a tidal movement that feels at once relentless and calm, as if the oil-clad linen is breathing, swelling in silent inhalation before releasing an eternal, soothing exhale. This pendulum swing abstractly chronicles the emotional undulations of the artist as he helms the threshold between mind and canvas.
Awash with brooding blues, cool ivories and wintry mauves, Pennock’s newest paintings are infused with a longing to reconnect with family in the United Kingdom at a time when global travel was suspended. Icy shards of oil splinter into foggy horizons as faraway landscapes float in the distance, glimpsed from across the ocean. Foreground and background, present and past, collide in a tapestry of truncated marks and gradational hues, and yet these polarities are also united, inseparable. Memory and the remembered, it seems, form the horizon of our present. There are formal innovations in these works, too, such as dried pieces of paint from Pennock’s palette incorporated into fresh impasto paint. This new technique creates a variation of space as the eye travels through soft washes to dried paint areas – reminiscent of weathered forms. “It reminds me of crumbling ruins on coastlines of distant shores,” reflects the artist – a metaphor, perhaps, for the abrasion of memories, bygone moments and former selves.
During the creation of this series, Pennock found himself waking from his sleep each night to strange visions of complicated lights on the ceiling. Some of the glows resembled numerical forms and characters, while others evoked organic forms. These apparitions became, for the artist, the presence of benevolent spirits. The phenomenon was awe-inspiring, and reassuring – meaningful, in a mysterious way. We can see, in Pennock’s looser application of paint, a sense of surrender to the forces around us. In Coast Guide, Spirit Tide, the movement of paint falls upon a vista of a space illuminated by a distant guiding light; a warm, comforting glow. Staccato patterns of paint are like orchestral arrangements in Elders and Ancestors’ Voices, creating polychromatic symphonies that resound with otherworldly energy. Each swathe of oil contains within its leathery membrane the untold melodies and gentle voices of forces unseen.
With his studio and home nestled in the dense bush of the Noosa Hinterland, Pennock is informed, consciously or not, by the native flora and fauna within which he is immersed – something that became especially pronounced during the pandemic. Whilst making this series, wildlife was drawn to the works in new and unexpected ways. Bees and other insects interacted with the paint as if it were a field of flowers. Meanwhile, a goanna found its way into the studio, knocking over several works that then led Pennock to rework certain compositions.
In all their vastness and intimacy, these works speak of the tight connective tissue between individual experience and collective being – between the lone wave descending on the shore and the entire endless ocean. Pennock is aware of this ontological continuum, and though he has honed a private opticality, his paintings are always left open, ready and waiting for us to complete the picture.