About Chad R. Penner
Chad R. Penner graduated from George Mason University with a BA in Art and Visual Technology with a concentration in drawing in the spring of 2015. He continued his education in the MFA program at the University of South Carolina and graduated in 2018. He currently lives and works in Beaufort, SC.
My work explores dynamics of power, violence, and nationalism using superhero imagery in large-scale charcoal and pastel drawings. I am compelled to question our own narratives of American exceptionalism, our historic and contemporary relationship with violence, and the problematic dimension of patriotism. Thus, the superhero figures in my work function as metaphors for an idealized America and America as a global “superpower.” I explore these concepts through figure drawings in charcoal and pastels on paper at a monumental scale, as a means to awe and overwhelm the viewer. My drawings are dark and atmospheric with high contrast lighting, dominated by dusty black charcoal with splashes of primary colors.
My work manifests as large scale charcoal drawings on paper and focuses on the human figure as a subject. The monumentality of these figures in tandem with their costumes, gestures, and interactions with one another serve as the primary content of the work. The utilization of charcoal and pastels as a medium allows for stark contrasts between black and white with flashes of color. I isolate color primarily in the costumes of the figures, while the skins tones of the figures themselves are in black and white, emphasizing the superhero costume as a symbol in itself. The stark tonal contrasts, sparse colors, and monumental scale of the figures and compositions creates dramatic and atmospheric compositions that tower over the viewer.
Conceptually, my work functions as a layering of systems of signs from the superhero genre, classical and neoclassical paintings, and contemporary politics. This layering combines classical references to history painting with the pop cultural relevancy of superheroes as a means to explore and discuss the complex social dynamics of American politics. Issues of power, violence, and the dark side of nationalism are the consistent themes evident in my work. In turn, the adaptation of the current cultural phenomenon of superheroes functions as a bridge between pop culture and fine art, crafting a visual lexicon that is accessible and legible to the average viewer. Creating work that is challenging yet accessible to the average viewer is an important dimension of my artistic practice.
Current events and the present sociopolitical climate are the main factors driving my recent work. The sociopolitical turmoil brought to a head by the 2016 Presidential election and its numerous ensuing controversies, a pronounced increase in civil violence, and palatable tensions abroad have culminated in a pronounced rift within American society. In turn, this sociopolitical unrest is underscored by the narrative of American exceptionalism, a notion which denies America’s own failings and inequities. As such, my work is a reflection of these contrasting ideas through the allegorization of America as a superpower using the superheroes of popular culture. Aside from the obvious play between superpowers and America as a “superpower,” the superhero is an American phenomenon that encapsulates the idealistic notions of American exceptionalism with America’s time honored tradition of resolution through violence. The synthesis of the iconography of American superheroes with the pressing issues of sociopolitical unrest and systemic violence results in artwork that questions our idealistic notions of America and its relationship to violence and power.