January 22, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 62  

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The real face of Penny’s Unreal

Artist: Evan Penny
Exhibit: Absolutely Unreal
Gallery: Museum London

By Michael Yokota
Gazette Writer

Evan Penny’s realist sculpture combined with works in photography and other mixed media are currently on display at Museum London.

His exhibit, Absolutely Unreal, is on display until Sunday, Mar. 14. Although the show is a comprehensive sample of his career’s work, the focus is on the two most recent projects: the “L. Faux” and “No One-In Particular” series.

The works in “L. Faux” confront the viewer immediately upon entry into the Museum’s Ivey North and Ivey Central halls. The series is based on three life-like sculptures of an anonymous woman’s head.

“L. Faux’s” unflinching gaze seems to pierce right through those that look at her; the ambiguous stare can be discomforting and confrontational due to the sheer size of the bust — approximately four feet high.

The detail Penny puts into the contours and texture of the skin, exaggerated by the scope of each head, serves as a reminder of the blemishes and flaws in ourselves and those around us.

The “L. Faux” sculptures are physically identical pieces, but the colour tone of each piece varies from a life-like hue, to grey-scale to an all-white head. Although Penny maintains that he is a formalist, the grouping of these works implies something else. It may be a comment on the movement from health to sickness or perhaps the decline of life into death; either way, the pieces have the greatest effect when viewed in series.

The second half of “L. Faux” are scaled pictures of each bust. Penny forces us to consider the distance between the model on which the sculpture is based, the work itself and the visual representation of the sculptures.

Perhaps it is a question of the impersonality of photography or perhaps he intends to blur those distinctions. Either way, these themes play a role in the other portion of Absolutely Unreal, “No One-In Particular.”

“No One-In Particular” is less striking, albeit just as interesting. The works are multiple low-relief busts scaled to about 1.5 times the size of the average human head. The faces are blankly frozen and their stare is less intense than “L. Faux”, but the realism is just as accurate, right up to the clothes that each work wears. The expression of each bust closely resembles a photo ID picture or a television freeze frame.

Gazing at the busts incites a feeling of voyeurism at a moment of personal intimacy. This feeling is heightened by the candid depiction of the subject’s clothes, skin and facial expression; the flaws are rendered perfectly.

A series of photographs of similar works lines the West wall of the gallery with the same distancing and impersonal effects as the “L. Faux” photographs.

In both series, Penny’s sculptures can be seen as the progressive face of realist sculpture or as an ironic homage to the perfectionism of traditional sculpture. Either way, his reflections on representing the real are worth the visit to Museum London.

Absolutely Unreal runs until Sunday, Mar. 14 at Museum London. 421 Ridout St. N.



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