THE BARLEY TOWER
IN THE BOTTOM LEFT HAND CORNER of the photo above you can just about see this painting behind sun reflections in the year it was painted - 1967. This was a year Pennington remembers with great fondness - the Summer of Love with its wonderfully optimistic music, art, fashion and ideas filling the air. He had just left Art College and was looking for outlets in the publishing world for his talents, building up a portfolio of book cover work in different genres; westerns, thrillers, whatever. You can get a taste of this work in the
EARLY section of his website.
The Barley Tower stands out a bit from the rest, though, not obviously fitting any publishing genre. Up to this point Pennington says he had not really developed a style of his own. At college his tutors had criticised him for the ease with which he could do pastiches of other artists and styles while not developing a distinctive vision. Well, with The Barley Tower we see the beginning of that vision. It's not quite like anything else. There's a touch of Gustave Moreau in there perhaps but it's no pastiche. It's a distinctly original and enigmatic piece.
In Pennington's 1991 retrospective Ultraterranium it appeared in the Private Works chapter along with other paintings he did over the years purely for his own satisfaction and that seems the appropriate place for this picture. It never was used as a book cover but it was seen by a lot of art directors and it's quite possible that it was what prompted publishers to consider him for fantasy work, which proved his true home as an illustrator.
On a technical note, the painting was on Whatman paper, the best surface Pennington had come across, fixed onto board with Gumstrip to give it solidity.