Culture & Conversation

A Brush with Terror

Ten years ago, a Montreal artist learned, up close and very uncomfortably, that domestic terrorism comes in many forms. A month after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania – on Oct. 12, 2001 – a firebomb exploded in the stairwell of Marion Pennell’s apartment building, one of nearly two dozen firebombings to take place in the St-Henri/Sud-Ouest districts that summer and fall, the result of Montreal’s ongoing biker war between rival gangs: the Hell’s Angels and the Rock Machine.

Pennell, a painter, was struck by the American flags adorning the attending fire trucks (in solidarity with American firefighters and those others who lost their lives in the Twin Towers collapse), and she drew an immediate parallel between the events of 9/11 and the criminals who targeted her building and, by extension, her. She channelled her anger at her own attackers into a series of impassioned paintings, under the heading “9.10.11: 10 Years Later,” that pay tribute to the citizens of New York City and the people of Afghanistan.

Simple titles like Hero, Boots, Salute and Loss (a plaintive acrylic on canvas depicting a grieving fireman, and shown here on this page) let the viewer take the reins of interpretation, as Pennell tends toward impression as opposed to direction.

“I painted [Loss] on Sept. 12, 2001, and added the last touches of smoke on Sept. 16,” says Pennell on her website (the works of “9.10.11: 10 Years Later,” as well as several of her other portfolios, can be seen at An accompanying piece, a larger format cityscape with the (atypically) long-ish title Gravesite NYC with Machines of Construction, finds Pennell working in comparatively greater detail, perhaps reaching for a more powerful literalism and immediacy.

“I was concerned with the ideas of the sacred and the profane,” she says by way of further explanation. “My influences were English and Italian landscape painters. The pigments I am using (and mixing all other colours from) are the colours that I painted the fireman with.”

“9.10.11: 10 Years Later” at Galerie Ouest (37 St-Thomas St., Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue), until Sept. 13

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