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Ross Penhall reveals some secrets of the trade

New book showcases 120 of artist's iconic paintings
A West Vancouver firefighter from youth until his retirement in 2010, Ross Penhall’s first career has uniquely informed his art.

Ross Penhall's Vancouver, Surrounding Areas and Places That Inspire (Appetite by Random House, $35), April 7, 7 p.m. book launch and signing at the Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art. For more information visit

Ross Penhall is spending most of April in Palm Springs where water conservation measures are turning California's desert oasis from green to brown.

"I'll have to change my palette," quips the artist best known for his verdant landscapes. "Maybe it's time to branch out."

Penhall is about to lunch at the Purple Palm, a hip hangout that was once a Prohibition Era desert clubhouse for Detroit's legendary Prohibition Era bootleggers, the Purple Gang. He's taken a few minutes by phone to speak to the News about his new book, Ross Penhall's Vancouver, for which he'll fly back into town to launch next Thursday with a reception at North Van's Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art.

Of course, he's just kidding. If the internationally recognized artist were to alter his distinctive style, he would mightily disappoint his legions of fans.

Those fans include friend and fellow West Vancouverite Vicki Gabereau, who wrote the book's forword. The veteran broadcaster describes what makes the painter's canvas instantly recognizable as a Penhall. "Ross's view of Vancouver is more beautiful for being just a bit distorted," Gabereau enthuses. "He rounds out corners, softens edges and sees vibrant colour in the yards, parks and streets of the city."

Published by Appetite, a division of Penguin Random House, the book showcases 120 of Penhall's paintings. In addition to paintings of Vancouver's manicured lawns and wild rainforests, there are chapters on surrounding areas and places that inspire: paintings of the Okanagan, the Canadian Prairies, and from travels abroad. The book also tells Penhall's story of becoming a firefighter and a painter and how the two careers overlapped in unexpected ways. A West Vancouver firefighter from youth until his retirement in 2010, Penhall's first career has uniquely informed his art. "As a 21-year-old tailgater on the fire truck, I suddenly had a bird's eye view of various neighbourhoods," he writes in his introduction to the book's Vancouver chapter. "With firefighting came insight and a bombardment of subject matter for my artistic career.

Countless hours spent driving the streets meant I knew the district better than anyone: I was familiar with every back alley, dead end, hidden easement and shortcut. This would become the secret of my trade."

Penhall used to play down his day job. You're not a true artist unless you're suffering, he thought.

"I got over that. Now I'm celebrating it."

When he speaks to young artists now, he encourages them to have a second career. "Do something else but keep art in your life," he tells them.

Penhall will donate partial proceeds from book sales at next Thursday's launch to Artists For Kids, the North Vancouver school district's art enrichment program that is supported through print sales by some of Canada's finest artists, Penhall included. The artist will again be on hand to sign copies of his book on Saturday, April 9, 2 p.m. at Gallery Jones (258 East First Ave., Vancouver), in conjunction with an exhibition of new works. Penhall will be at another book signing event on Sunday, April 10, 1 p.m. at Indigo Books, 1025 Marine Dr. in North Vancouver.