Evan Penny is a widely-acclaimed contemporary artist currently working in Toronto. He studied at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, graduating from the Honours program in 1975 and post-graduate sculpture program in 1978. In the 1980s and 90s, he taught at the Alberta College of Art and Design, the Ontario College of Art, and more recently at the Toronto School of Art. For the past two decades he has been represented commercially by Trépanier Baer Gallery in Calgary, and in 2005 joined Sperone Westwater in New York. In 2011-12, Penny was the subject of a major international exhibition, Evan Penny Re-Figured, which travelled to Germany, Austria and Italy, and finally returned to Canada to be shown at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
During the past decade, Penny has focused on the development of his sculptural works. Working with both real and fictive models, he explores the ever-changing and unstable boundaries between reality and illusion. By consciously avoiding youthful, idealized subjects, his work questions our perceptions of beauty and the popular stereotypes by which males and females are often represented. Yet through his working process, attention to detail and use of real materials like human hair and clothing, his objects are utterly convincing evocations.
The No One in Particular series has marked a major contribution to his work of the past decade, and this piece was the first one in the ongoing series comprised of a dozen objects. Produced between 2001 and 2004, the series consists of fabricated characters built from magazine articles, image manipulation and composite processes, usually around 1.5 times what would be life-size. As the series title suggests, these are not portraits in the traditional sense of depicting a named subject in whose memory social and personal contributions and identities are held. Based on the concept of an ID photograph, they are relief busts that are fictitious figures, cast in fleshy silicone. As Governor General Award-winning critic Nancy Tousley has observed:
"The No One in Particulars might have emerged from that parallel universe on the other side of the screen on the television set or the computer. Like receptacles waiting to be filled with meaning, they speak to the mutability of identity and the body in the 21st century, attended by cosmetic surgery, biogenetic engineering, digital imaging and virtuality, as well as to how our ideas about identity and perception of the world is affected by such forces." (Evan Penny: Absolutely Unreal, London 2004)
Penny's work is consistent with the long history of illusionism in the Western tradition as established during the Renaissance, whereby the image before us was presented to be so convincing as to be perceived as reality. Through careful manipulation of space, proportion and scale, however, Penny continually plays with our expectations. In this era of ever-expanding virtual reality, experimental genetic engineering and biotechnology, his compelling objects ask us to revisit reality. In the context of a long tradition of "realism" in North American art histories -- including such figures as Alex Colville, Tom Forrestall, Duane Hanson, Christopher Pratt, Mary Pratt and others -- Penny has defined a unique and resonant voice.