Evan Penny - Reviews & Essays


Stretch, Anamorph, since 2003

The distorted sculptures in the series Stretch and Anamorph constitute particularly striking responses to Penny’s fundamental question of what would happen if the common forms of the concept of the human being in two-dimensional media passed over into real space. The titles themselves make reference to this thought. Stretch refers to manipulations that can be made in the image-editing program Photoshop. The term “anamorph” stems from optics and denotes a distorted image that appears in normal perspective when viewed from one particular point of view. As early as the Renaissance, numerous artists dealt with anamorphic pictures, which derived from the emergent technology of the camera obscura.

Thus in his works in the Stretch and Anamorph series, Penny avails himself of the conventional distortion techniques used in the visual arts and in computer graphics, which he transfers into the third dimension. While it is not apparent, it is important to know how the artist arrives at his distorted sculptures in order to understand them. With only a few exceptions, he does not use pre-existing images of real people as models, which one might assume are then distorted in Photoshop and finally rendered in clay. Rather, the modus operandi and object of the exercise is to first create an imaginary stretched or skewed character in clay that, once finished and photographed, can then be compressed in Photoshop until it produces a plausible image of a naturalistically proportioned individual. What might appear to be humorous, caricature-like exaggerations in the stretched state, become believable expressions in compression. The conventional and assumed order of the relationship between a person and their image has been reversed. This is demonstrated in the photograph Compress in Context, where Penny has photographed himself standing beside the Stretch sculpture. When that photograph is compressed, the sculpture looks like a normal person – and he himself like a flattened monstrosity.