New exhibit at FIA captures the beauty of forgotten towns in rural America

FLINT, Michigan — Sometimes there’s a certain kind of beauty to be found in abandoned places, the faraway and forgotten towns of yesteryear. For Texas-based artist Rod Penner, the desolation and serenity of rural Texas and New Mexico towns across Southwest America provide the backdrop for his latest exhibit. The Last Picture Show is on exhibit at the Dow Gallery inside the Flint Institute of Arts (FIA) now through Aug. 13. 

Rachael Holstege, associate curator at the FIA researches and assembles temporary exhibits and installations as part of the permanent collection galleries. 

“This exhibition, located in the FIA’s Dow Gallery, features 21 paintings by artist Rod Penner,” Holstege says. “His paintings are photo-informed, meaning he bases them on photographs and digital video stills that he captures. His paintings are meticulously detailed, including all of the minute details down to the chipping paint and cracked sidewalks. The exhibition explores the visual dichotomy of forgotten towns in the Southwest United States.”

All of the works are acrylic paint on canvas, board and panel, although a naked eye might do a double-take to see if they are in fact captured on film. 

“Visitors might be unfamiliar with photo-informed paintings,” Holstege says. “These works look like photographs but are paintings. Artists gather photographic and digital material to use for reference but everything is painted.”

Rod Penner, American, b. Canada, 1965. Day, 2010. Acrylic on canvas, 6 x 6 in. Collection of the Flint Institute of Arts, Museum Purchase, 2010.282.
Although there are no local-to-Flint landscapes featured, the images represented are universal to many towns. 

“I think people will relate to the nostalgia of small towns that the paintings make you feel,” Holstege says. “The paintings focus on factories and small industrial towns, something the residents of Flint can relate closely to. Although the scenes are derived from towns in the Southwest, some of them could have been inspired by the buildings found in our own city.”

Previously, the exhibit was on view as Rod Penner: Small Town Meditations at the Louis K. Meisel Gallery. 

“The FIA has had a long-standing working relationship with the Louis K. Meisel Gallery in New York,” says Holstege. “The owner, Louis Meisel, has represented Photorealist and photo-informed painters since 1973. In 2018, we worked closely with the gallery for an exhibition titled From Lens to Eye to Hand: Photorealism 1969 to Today, which included a painting by Rod Penner and was an exhibition the public very much liked. So, when Meisel Gallery approached us a few years ago about having an exhibition solely of Rod Penner’s work, in conjunction with the release of the artist's first major monograph, we were excited by the opportunity.”

Rod Penner, American, b. Canada, 1965. Orange Street and Main / Fredericksburg, TX, 1999. Acrylic on board, 18 x 33 ½ in. Collection of Louis K. and Susan P. Meisel.The exhibit encourages visitors to see beauty in the day-to-day, even if an area’s heyday has come and gone. 

“I think visitors will take away an appreciation for the everyday and the moments we experience but don’t think much about,” Holstege says. “These paintings are done from the perspective of street corners, and symbolize the beauty of ordinary spaces.”
The Flint Institute of Arts is open Monday through Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is free for FIA members and Genesee County residents, $10 for adults, free for children 12 and under, $8 for students with ID and for seniors. Admission is free for everyone on Saturday, courtesy of Huntington Bank.

To learn more about current and future exhibits at the FIA, visit:
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