Still Life, Student Life: The Art of Chet Pennington
Ask any artist whether they have perfected their craft, and invariably you will prompt a discussion of their passion and a lifelong pursuit of process, of the sometimes arduous and painful journey along the path from inspiration to the finished work of art. If you aren’t lucky enough to ask the artist in person—as is the case with our discovery of Bay Area painter Chet Pennington, who passed away earlier this year—then the conversation must be carried by the memories of others and the work itself.
Chester Edmund Pennington—“Chet” to those who knew him—was born in San Francisco in 1928. He served in WWII, worked for an ad agency for a while after the war, and graduated from UC Berkeley in 1955. Continuing education was a mainstay of Chet’s life, and art classes and Berkeley Extension courses made him into a consummate student. He taught English for 30 years, drew, painted, studied, travelled, and for 50 years lived as partner to Jack C. Anderson. His life was very much a part of his art, and he brought it all to the canvas.
In October 2000, Chet’s painting Seashells with Red Box (1990) was included in a special issue of American Artist surveying “realism today,” the editors calling it and the other works featured indicative of a sea change in the attitudes and tastes of the previous century. Chet’s scholarly approach is evident in every one of his works, and yet the end result is marked by a lively interplay of composition, light, and color.
Castle in the Air is dedicated to the imagination of artists like Chet Pennington, individuals who grab inspiration and integrate their art, study, work, and life. In tribute to the everyday world which so informed his art, Chet’s works are displayed among the objects in his paintings—a silver pitcher, a celadon jar, bread on a board—all of them the simple fruits of his labors. To walk the exhibit is akin to visiting the artist’s home, offering the chance to witness technical skill alongside the intimacy of still-life arrangements. Chet’s self-portrait, on the easel at the time of his death, looks back at us and grants us a poignant reflection on a life spent in devoted exploration of the creative gift.
The works of Chet Pennington are on display at Castle in the Air through the month of June. Special thanks is extended to Jack C. Anderson for his generous loan of the art and objects exhibited.