Chad R. Penner, MFA
Adjunct Faculty, Painting and Drawing
Director, Sea Islands Center Gallery
Chad R. Penner teaches drawing and painting in the Department of Visual Art & Design and is the Director of the Sea Islands Center Gallery. Penner graduated from George Mason University with a BA in Art and Visual Technology in 2015 and received an MFA in Studio Art from the University of South Carolina in 2018. His work examines dynamics of violence and power in America using superhero imagery in charcoal drawings. Penner’s artwork exists at the intersection between drawing, politics, superhero imagery, and social commentary.
My work explores the relationship between the idea of American exceptionalism and America’s intimate relationship with and affinity towards violence. I allegorize these concepts using popular superheroes, such as Superman, Captain America, and Wonder Woman, which function as metaphors for an idealized America and America as a global “superpower.” In turn, these superheroes epitomize the superhero genre’s emblematic theme of resolution through conflict, paralleling America’s own historical and cultural association with violence. I discuss America’s obsession with violence in relation to its own idealized identity in drawings that combine superhero imagery and social commentary.
I work with charcoal, pastels, and chalk on paper to create two distinct series of works. My early works are dark, atmospheric, monumental drawings which depict violent acts between superheroes and victims and examine the historical or social implications of violence outside of the act of violence itself. These figures are life-size or larger, towering over and overwhelming the viewer, implicating them in a powerless position as victims or bystanders. These works contend that violence is inherent in America’s structures of power, in which the viewer is also an implicit participant.
My recent work takes a more satirical tone by combining contemporary political figures with superhero costumes in charcoal and pastel portraits. The juxtaposition of these politicians and their ill-fitting costumes implies a failure to live up to the heroic status to which contemporary society often holds them. In turn, these works criticize the cult of personality built around contemporary politicians, especially President Trump and his allies. This series is at once an indictment of the administration’s populist façade and a cathartic joke at its expense.