World travels inspire artist couple to create large, realistic paintings


Pennie Brantley’s first trip overseas, to Thailand, was memorable. The Bangladesh War broke out when she was there, and her return flight was detoured to Kuwait.

“We were surrounded by militia carrying rifles,” she recalled. “The plane was searched and two bombs found aboard. In the guise of not scaring the passengers, one member of the bomb squad moved cautiously down the aisle gingerly carrying a metal food box in front of him with both hands. As he passed by our seats, we saw that the jumpsuit he was wearing said ‘Al’s Catering’ – in English – on the back.”

Despite that, Brantley was bitten by the travel bug, and it shows in her art: large oil paintings, frequently with architectural and historical elements, of locations in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and The Netherlands that are so detailed they look like photographs from a distance.

Pennie Brantley and Robert Morgan in their studioFor the last 20-plus years, her travel companion has been her husband, Robert Morgan, another artist who is showing his large watercolor paintings alongside Brantley’s in a joint exhibition, “Double Vision,” in the Schweinfurth Art Center’s Davis Family Gallery. The show will be on display from March 22 to May 12, 2019.

Their love of travel is easily seen in their joint exhibition statement: “For these artists, life is a continuous journey, traveling distant paths geographically and psychologically in search of deeper understanding and appreciation. … Brantley and Morgan see the wonders of the earth as embodying abstract ideas about the realities of living.”

Morgan also wasn’t deterred from traveling despite an incident in Morocco when he and a friend backpacked overseas on a sabbatical from college. Hopping a ferry from Gibraltar to Morocco, they landed in Tangier.

“While exploring the Casbah, a couple of locals befriended us and suggested a cheap hotel for us to stay,” he said. “Grateful to have a place to stash our bags, we went back out for dinner. When we returned, it was a shock to find those friendly locals waiting in our room.”

The locals demanded that Morgan and his friend buy their hashish, which they refused to do. “They threatened that if we didn’t give them money, someone might come in during the night and stab us. Terrified, we gave them money -- an unexpectedly paltry amount -- and left early in the morning, after getting NO sleep that night,” he recalled.

Travel is much calmer now, and the couple each have their own favorite places to visit.

For Brantley, it’s France, Barcelona, and Venice. “We love the culture and worldliness of (France’s) citizens, the pace of taking time to appreciate life,” she said. Barcelona tops her list because of buildings designed by architect Antonio Gaudi. “Being fascinated with his work since high school, it is thrilling to visit his structures,” she said. And Venice? It’s “Disneyland for adults,” she explains simply.

Morgan’s favorite places are mostly similar: France, Spain, and Argentina. “All offer interesting mixes of art, architecture, scenery, food, wine,” he said.

Morning fog in Orvieto, Italy


Love of travel isn’t the only thing Brantley and Morgan have in common. The artists found that they had arrived independently at similar motivations in their work, so their joint show is cohesive. Yet each style is unique, both in vision and in the materials they use in creating their paintings.

Brantley’s oil paintings take a long time to make. One reason is that she creates her pieces with multiple layers. “Through experience, I developed how to achieve both the visual and psychological effects that I want,” Brantley said. 

Culling images she is inspired to paint from hundreds of photos from travels, she begins with drawing on the canvas. “For instance, ‘Morning Fog, Orvieto’ took a year and a half to finish, including the month it took just to draw,” she said. “By layering paint usually in three full rounds of underpainting and overpainting – plus more tweaking sometimes – one can achieve more intensity in both colors and perspective.”

The determinant of Morgan’s work is his inability to purchase watercolor paper in the size he wants to paint. “My work became larger as I sought to break the mold of what defines a watercolor,” he said. “I wanted the viewer to be immersed in the work and be part of the environment.”

That has led Morgan to collage pieces together, adding metal and other items to the artwork. “I am trying to create a friction that results from pairing contrasts – warm and cold, hard and soft, threatening and soothing, loud and quiet,” he said. “I want the work to resonate, to vibrate on a frequency that sets off a chain reaction of personal associations and comparisons – and I hope the viewer shares the tension inevitably lurking behind the beauty.”

Brantley and Morgan say an important element in their marriage is their mutual love of art. “Besides being in love with my wife, it is such a treat to be able to share a passion for art – so important to both of us,” Morgan said.

Brantley agrees. “We never run out to things to talk about,” she said. “We can discuss dilemmas with our work and get productive feedback. We share the same interests in our travels, particularly lots of art and art history, that not many people would have as great an interest in. Besides, we really enjoy being together!”

About the exhibit

What: “Double Vision”
Who: Husband and wife painters Robert Morgan and Pennie Brantley
Where: Davis Family Gallery in the Schweinfurth Art Center, 205 Genesee St., Auburn
When: March 22 to May 12, 2019
Opening: 5 to 8 p.m., March 22, 2019; event is free
Cost: $7 per person; members, participating artists, and children 12 and under free
Also showing: “Made in NY,” an exhibition of artists from around New York State, and “Common Places,” an exhibition of photographs by artist Willson Cummer
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Closed Mondays.
More information:


Photo captions

TOP PHOTO: A visitor passes by Robert Morgan's piece "Belgian Feeder at Rock Field" during the exhibit's opening.

CENTER PHOTO: Pennie Brantley and Robert Morgan pose in their studio. They say being married to an artist is great because they share each other's passion.

BOTTOM PHOTO: Pennie Brantley's piece "Morning Fog. Orvieto." Brantley said it took her 1.5 years to finish it because of all the layers she painted.