Beverly Penn: Radical Adaptation
Text and Images Courtesy of Lisa Sette Gallery

Above: Beverly Penn, Drought, 2019, cast bronze, 40″ x 46″ x 9″.

Beverly Penn’s complex botanical sculptures in luminous patinated bronze are reminders that human life is axiomatically intertwined with plant life: our own existence is possible only because of the breath, sustenance, and structure that plants provide. Penn’s work – exquisite botanical flourishes cast from the diversity of species that inhabit the chaparral and hill country ecologies of the sculptor’s home in Texas–remind us of the deep biological intimacy between humans and plants, a relationship that ranges from ornamental habit to evolutionary survival.

Radical Adaptation, a collection of Penn’s recent works, is on view exhibited at Lisa Sette Gallery through February 26, 2022 in an examination of the aesthetic relationship between botanical forms and human experience in a time of climate change and species decline. Penn’s works present both a memorial to the lost primacy of the botanical world, and an allegory for survival, imagination, and radical adaptation.

Above: Beverly Penn, Umbel II, 2019, cast bronze, 6″ x 6″  x 6″ each approximately.

A collector of specimens, Penn’s botanical knowledge is extensive; her studio doubles as an archive of plant forms that are robust enough to withstand the casting process: Agave, Antelope Horn Milkweed, Bulbine, Coyote Brush, Canada Thistles. Penn duplicates these structures in bronze using centrifugal casting, a jewelry-making method that is capable of capturing the minute details of vining stems, thistles and seed pods.

“I’m trying to think about these plants as individuals, that the individual species are reacting to a global situation…The color and shape is not only about a physical or visual description, but a stand-in for a process that affects ecosystems as a whole.”  – Beverly Penn

Above: Beverly Penn, Yeseria, 2017, cast bronze, 80″ x 80″ x 6”.

Penn’s keen botanical knowledge, her library of flora and her metalworking skills combine in an enchanted process that results in conflagrations of bronze vines, buds and thistles in arrangements resembling vessels, vortici, or tumbling spirals. 

Each sculpture is illuminated in such a way that casts fugitive ecologies in shadow form, drawing our attention to the patterns of absence and structure that make up biological life. Penn’s sculptures are not exact recreations of plants, nor are they pure botanical ornamentation; each work is a formal composition, conjured from secret narratives and gathered in wild places, that speaks to the exquisite intimacy between humans and plants, and the unknown transformations wrought by our changing planet. 

Above: Beverly Penn, Ceanothus Amaranthus, 2017, cast bronze, 36″ x 16″ x 8″ each.

Penn has remarked that through her casting process–in which the original organic material is burnt from the wax mold–these works may be thought of as memorials to plants that once were, yet “a memorial also links us to desire, so it is equally hopeful, because it is in idealized nature that we cultivate our imagination.”

Beverly Penn: Radical Adaptation
Through February 26
Lisa Sette Gallery