Artist profile: Evan Penny

Walking into a room full of artist Evan Penny’s sculptures is like walking into a room full of people. His lifelike, almost statuary figures seem ready to engage museum-goers in casual conversation.

From May 11 to September 2, the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio hosted Penny’s first United States solo exhibit. The display was a part of the museum’s Currents series, which features work by international artists. Penny’s work has already been exhibited internationally in museums such as the Galeria Fernando Latiorre in Spain.

Much of Penny’s talent lies in his ability to capture the tiniest details of the human face and body in his sculptures. He often sculpts only the head, neck and shoulders, but everything from the contours of the sculpture’s face to the hairs on its head appear authentic.

Yet in his latest work, the sizes and dimensions of the sculptures are extraordinary. The pieces are profoundly larger than their human inspirations and are usually tilted, stretched or distorted in some other fashion.

The series, called Stretch, is named after the command in Adobe® Photoshop®. “Such distortions abandon traditional spatial logic and embrace the logic of virtual space now made possible by the computer,” writes Joe Houston, the associate curator of Contemporary Art at the Columbus Museum of Art, when explaining Penny’s inspiration for one such series of sculptures in the exhibit brochure.

Penny combines lifelike features and added distortion to reveal a major theme in his work: the union of reality and perception. He also conveys this theme through the sizes of his sculptures. Several of Penny’s works in his No One in Particular series resemble everyday people, only they have much larger proportions.

Another enlarged sculpture is L. Faux: Colour 2 (Libby). According to Houston, the subject for this particular sculpture was Penny’s friend Libby Faux, and the sculpture of her head and shoulders is five times larger than in real life. With a head of bushy brown hair and two wide, hazel eyes, the startling size of the sculpture only further emphasizes its authenticity.
Penny retains the lifelike qualities of his sculptures through several steps in his process. According to the brochure, Penny first uses clay to form a mold for the sculpture. He then layers pigmented silicone and fiberglass in the mold. These layers form the future sculpture. To add ordinary, realistic features, he uses natural hairs for head, facial and body hair.

The most refreshing aspect of Penny’s work is his acceptance of physical flaws. Whether modeled after an actual person or a figment of his imagination, Penny’s sculptures ignore society’s current quest for perfection and depict ordinary people. His figures have wrinkles, age spots and freckles; he sculpts both men and women, and the young and the old.

Aside from creating his own sculptures, Penny has also passed on his knowledge to other aspiring artists. He has taught at the Toronto School of Art, Ontario College of Art, and other colleges and art institutes.

Although Penny’s exhibit will not be coming to Pittsburgh in the near future, his United States solo exhibit is currently at the Flint Institute of Arts, Michigan through October 28.