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Evan Penny: Re Figured at The AGO


Every so often I find myself standing in awe.

This state of dumbfoundedness quickly turns into a fleeting moment of jealousy. The experience is a rare one which is always a direct knee jerk reaction when exploring the wonderful world of art. Memorable moments include staring up at The David in Florence, Yayoi Kusama polka dot revelations in Sydney Australia and an exclusive Pixar Exhibit which I visited in Seoul Korea.

I’ve always been fascinated by what people can create with their hands. I tried my best in art class but often sat with my pastels and parchment paper furious that I was not an artistic prodigy like the beautiful girl in pigtails sitting beside me as she quickly sketched “the likeness of our teacher.”

The detailed veins on Michelangelo’s David have inspired millions of earnest sculptors, Yayoi’s interpretations of reality have forced audiences to more cautiously define repetition and the geniuses at Pixar continue to reinvent how we experience a new story at the cinema.

When I heard that the Art Gallery of Ontario would be hosting a large scale survey exhibition of Canadian sculptor Evan Penny’s out of this world sculptural works I was excited to say the least. The exhibition includes over 30 works represented by larger-than-life sculptures, photographs and a film about the artist’s work providing an overview of his production over the past decade.

Evan Penny is a Toronto-based, South African-born artist whose unsettling sculptures manage to be uncannily lifelike and, in many cases, weirdly distorted at the same time. For many years, Penny applied his skills to creating special effects for more than 25 movies. Penny has advanced hyper realistic sculpture to an unprecedented level. His work truly is jaw dropping. His painstakingly crafted figures are composed of layers of colour pigmented silicone, hair, fabric and resin. They come across not only as realistic but also as highly artificial. This impression is enhanced by Penny’s distoritive techniques; often presenting an otherwise life-like portrait bust in skewed proportions or in a perverse colour scheme.

Studying Penny’s works on show at the AGO once again had me clenching my fists and whispering, “Oh how I wish I could do that.” His portraits often confuse the mind and require a bit of exploration and locomotion in order to understand the dimensions, proportions and motion the artist has so exquisitely revealed. His sculptures are not stunning models or famous figures. Penny seems to collect and create run of the mill people: from skinny to fat, pimpled to freckled. His distorted army of silicone portraits perfectly showcase the city in which we live.

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