L. Faux, 2000–2005
The L. Faux series marks the beginning of Penny’s current phase of work, guided by the operative principle of transgressing the boundaries between media-communicated and natural perception. The project was inspired by portraits by Thomas Ruff and Stefan Hablützel that Penny had encountered together in a single exhibition. Like these artists, Penny chose a format nearly twice life size. He followed Ruff in the choice of the head-and-shoulders crop and the way he worked the surface with photographic precision, while the sculptural modelling is consistent with works by Hablützel.
The ambiguity of the works finds expression in the title L. Faux, which refers to a real woman called Libby Faux. Yet the meaning of the French word faux raises doubts as to what is real and what is not. The message is ambivalent: if viewed from a distance, the sculpture may be mistaken for a photograph. Viewed more closely, it gives the impression of a lifelike body. However, when viewed from the side we see that the face becomes progressively flatter towards the ears and the back of the head, seamlessly becoming two-dimensional. This compression creates a hybrid being – both photographic portrayal and sculptural body.
In L. Faux, Penny additionally thematises elements of photographic or typographic alienation in different combinations: while L. Faux: Colour has a natural complexion, L. Faux: White resembles a faded photograph, L. Faux: Black & White a black-and-white image, and L. Faux: CMYK a failed colour print. In the latter, the colours that should have been printed one on top of the other – cyan, magenta, yellow, as well as key, the black layer – seem to have shifted slightly due to the inaccurate fit of the printing plates. We see the portrait slightly offset, the layers superimposed three times over. Mouth, pupils, nostrils, as well as every wrinkle, every pore and every single hair appear three times – once in blue, once in yellow, once in red. The black is applied only where all three layers are simultaneously overlapped. Thanks to the highest degree of technical precision, the artist succeeds in transferring the singular qualities of a flawed offset print into three-dimensionality. The L. Faux series leads us to a paradox: photographs of the sculptures correspond with our horizon of experience shaped by photographs, film and colour prints. In contrast, the undeniable physical plausibility of the distorted sculptures cause us to be amazed and stare in disbelief at the monsters spawned by a conception of the human being influenced by the media.