It is this notion of the sublime that Penn uses to guide us into her work. The concept has circulated in different cultures since ancient times, but its articulation in the Western aesthetic tradition is most succinctly put by the English writer John Addison. On encountering the Italian Alps on several occasions at the turn of the 17th century, he wrote of feeling “an agreeable kind of horror”.



Robyn Penn. The Dreamer Kim Jong Un. 2022. Oil on Linen. 16x20cm


Penn is interested in the points at which Western constructs of natural beauty give way to a sense of horror or threat. In her new drawings of clouds, she works with a uniquely rich surface of graphite and encaustic wax, which gives a sense of depth that is at once ominous and awe-inspiring. The ambiguity of these works – are they inviting or threatening? – is a line Penn has walked in past bodies of work as well, and points to our complex relationship to nature in the context of the climate crisis. At the level of policy and in everyday life, the human race exploits the environment while claiming a connection to nature along nationalist, corporate or existential lines.

Penn’s series of portraits of political figures asleep or at leisure references the apathy of world leaders in the face of the various world crises they are instrumental in perpetuating. At the same time, however, these portraits imagine their subjects in a state of unwitting vulnerability. They seem peaceful, harmless, human even. Their rendering in oil paint is seductive, virtuosic. These are “agreeable” paintings, to return to Addison’s language, of horrible men, and they provide the key to the tension that underlies many, if not all, of Penn’s works. Are these subjects beautiful or terrible? Does the fact that the horrible men are sleeping make things better or worse?
The exhibition is on show until Friday 26th August.


Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!