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Fan Mail: Joe Penrod

Typically, the studio is where artists make their work, but Joe Penrod’s space for creative development exists anywhere a shadow falls. Armed with only a roll of cerulean painter’s tape, Penrod transforms once-mundane shadows (and the objects that cast them) into fecund sculptural compositions.

Joe Penrod. Tacoma Weed, 2010; painters tape; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist.

Joe Penrod. Tacoma Weed, 2010; painter’s tape; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

There are a few stages in Penrod’s process. First he finds an object that casts a particularly beautiful or striking shadow. Next, he makes a replica of that shadow with painter’s tape—essentially affixing it to the surface it darkens—to create a lasting but impermanent impression. It is difficult to explain precisely why an artist is attracted to a visual motif, and with Joe Penrod’s work this difficulty is heightened—almost everything could be turned into one of his blue shadows.

Joe Penrod. Three Flags, 2011; found flag, painter’s tape; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist.

Joe Penrod. Three Flags, 2011; found flag, painter’s tape; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

His work is simultaneously unique and common, and it creates a rich visual friction between the shadows he has marked and those he hasn’t. This tension is augmented further in the marked shadows that have shifted due to changing light. The work Three Flags (2011) is a great example of this kind of mismatch or incongruity, and showcases the subtle beauty that such a simple gesture evokes.

Joe Penrod. Deflated, 2010; mylar balloons, painter’s tape; 4 x 3 feet. Courtesy of Half/Dozen Gallery.

Joe Penrod. Deflated, 2010; Mylar balloons, painter’s tape; 4 x 3 ft. Courtesy of Half/Dozen Gallery.

Penrod’s process of outlining shadows has another interesting effect. When he renders a shadow in painter’s tape, the three-dimensional form that cast it now also becomes a flat surface, much like the process an object undergoes when it is depicted in a photograph or a film. Penrod transposes a sculpture back into a two-dimensional form, yet simultaneously augments the three-dimensionality of it by anchoring its shadow more permanently. The fluctuation between the two states enlivens the humble materials and enriches the work.

Joe Penrod. Deflated (after 3 weeks), 2010; mylar balloons, painter’s tape; 4 x 3 feet. Courtesy of Half/Dozen Gallery.

Joe Penrod. Deflated (After 3 Weeks), 2010; Mylar balloons, painter’s tape; 4 x 3 ft. Courtesy of Half/Dozen Gallery.

This effect is particularly visible in his installation Deflated (2010), which he made for the Front Porch exhibition series at the Half/Dozen Gallery in Portland, Oregon. Deflated—a group of silver balloons tied to the floor, with their shadows marked in blue painter’s tape—was installed in a street-facing window, and as time passed the balloons slowly deflated while the painter’s tape remained.

Joe Penrod. Orange and Blue (A Column for Brancusi), 2009; traffic cones, painter’s tape; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist.

Joe Penrod. Orange and Blue (A Column for Brancusi), 2009; traffic cones, painter’s tape; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

While Penrod can create virtually anywhere, his work with tape and shadows plays best in the more traditional space of the gallery. Orange and Blue (A Column for Brancusi) (2009) is a large-scale sculpture—nearly seventeen feet tall—that is composed of orange traffic cones and a painter’s-tape shadow. The thick rubber cones tower overhead and reach a nearly ridiculous height, seeming primed to fall but simultaneously strongly anchored in space because of the sturdy blue shadow.

Joe Penrod. Pallet/Palette, 2010; painter’s tape and wooden pallets; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist.

Joe Penrod. Pallet/Palette, 2010; painter’s tape and wooden pallets; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

Joe Penrod’s work explores a rich visual landscape through strong interventions. While the demarcation of a shadow into a more permanent visual motif might feel like a repetitive gesture, Penrod treats each new work with a deft and distanced eye so as to enliven oft-neglected spaces and to create fresh juxtapositions each time.

Joe Penrod is an artist living and working in Olympia, WA. He earned his BFA from Brigham Young University in Provo, UT. Penrod’s work has been the subject of solo exhibitions in Tacoma, WA; Olympia, WA; and Provo, UT. He has been included in numerous group exhibitions throughout the United States, including in New York City, NY; Salt Lake City, UT; Oakland, CA; Portland, OR; Denver, CO; and Olympia, WA.

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