Frightening beauty is what awaits viewers at Sperone Westwater Gallery’s newest exhibition. The life size- and sometimes larger than life- human silicone sculptures by Evan Penny are beautifully grotesque. The scale and medium employed provide an overbearing visual experience as the viewer is compelled to embrace an ugly truth- no human being is perfect, and quite literally at that.
In one of three self- portraits, Old Self: Portrait of the Artist as He Will (Not) Be. (2010) is a life size bust which compels the viewer to repulsively observe and at every magnified detail; every ghastly follicle, every wavy wrinkle, every tiny skin pore. Protruding from the wall whilst sporting a dull green t-shirt, the artist has portrayed himself ingloriously, notably making no effort in hiding his frail countenance, signs of aging, nor his facial blemishes. It is Penny’s intricate handling of human imperfection that is humbling and successfully conveys that which ultimately makes us human.
The notion of imperfection is pushed to extremes with his largest piece, Jim Revisited (2011). Jim’s larger than life presence isn’t heightened by his majestic contrapposto stance (or his gargantuan genitals), but more interestingly, it is the obscured anatomical structure of Jim’s slanted stance that not only disillusions the viewer; actively distorting the space in which the sculpture occupies. As Jim leans disconcertingly off his pedestal the only rational question beckons, why disallow Jim a noble pose? The answer ironically is in the pose itself. Penny’s reconciliation of detail and scale informatively enhances a renewed sense of appreciation for the human being, not as a life form, but simply as an art form.
The splendour throughout Penny’s mesmerising sculptures lays in his honest depictions of his own imperfections essentially leaving the viewer both bemused and humbled. Such diligent attention to detail is inspiringly adept, even more so in Female Stretch (2011) - undoubtedly the most confounding of Penny’s sculptures- involving distortion that is inconceivably elongated from floor to ceiling. Female Stretch personifies fright as it effectively challenges the audience’s perception of reality; bulging eye balls, compressed lips, and a painfully sharpened nose coupled with Penny's compulsive handling of human detail, attracts both repulsion and fascination.
As iconic as Female Stretch is, it is Penny's work’s that will collectively leave the viewer greatly confused, baffled, and at the same time in love- in love with the notion that even in imperfection, there is still beauty.