Warped Time

“The world is made of events, not things.”—Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time

In 2019 Ashraf Jamal wrote an essay about my work, which seems as relevant now as it was then. He stated that, ‘ours is an age in which certainty and fullness of mind, heart and soul, has come to naught. Penn’s works across media, invite an audience to inhabit a world which, in truth, is fast becoming uninhabitable.’ Jamal rightly noted that my works aren’t ‘moral or political theorisations, but sombre invocations. They’re not designed to assuage our fears, but in their muted, quiet, yet unerringly certain manner, ask us to embrace unsettlement, to take that unsettlement to heart.’

My work has always involved an immersion in nature, a sense of awe and the sublime and a preoccupation with the nature of time. I grew up, and have lived most of my adult life, in Johannesburg where the sublime arrives in the form of cloud formations that pile up daily. Change is ubiquitous as evidenced in this natural process of transformation and dissolution. Time (as Aristotle suggested) is the measurement of change, not of being, but of becoming, made up of events, processes, chaos and entropy. These ideas of time, nature and the sublime have become more entrenched as I paint during a national and global lockdown.

In Warped Time, my pictorial reference is the clouded South African highveld sky. Rendered in deep shades of red this everyday image is transformed into something more dramatic, certainly more surreal. I love playing with ambiguity in my imagery. It is more than a sunset or sunrise, it is beautiful and ominous. I am awed when I look at the sky, it reveals our insignificance and natures indifference towards us. A forboding liquid red sky seems to make sense at this moment in time. In a world under duress, where human modes for how we make sense of the world; our notions of time, of place and human connections have been disrupted in an unprecedented way and the only certainties are that we are not in charge and that change is pervasive. In his book ‘Mountains of the Mind’ author Robert MacFarlane writes, “Behind the mountains stretch eons too vast for us to comprend. They were here long before we were even dreamed of; and watched us arrive and will watch us leave.”

Warped Time, 2020