DOUBLE TAKE: John Hall & Evan Penny - Loch Gallery, Calgary

Together with TrépanierBaer Gallery, Loch Gallery is excited to present DOUBLE TAKE: John Hall & Evan Penny, a joint presentation of two extraordinary works, by painter, John Hall and sculptor, Evan Penny: Framed:Phoenix 1 by Hall and Self-Portrait, Variation #3 by Penny.

Two of Calgary's most renowned contemporary realist artists, both graduates of Alberta College of Art, albeit a decade apart, Hall and Penny have been friends and colleagues since the late 1970's.  During the 1980's both artists were, in Hall's words, "attempting to breathe new life into the tradition of realist art". Both artists did exactly that and continue to do so in their practices, each with unique approaches in their respective mediums.

Hall's Framed:Phoenix 1 and Penny's Self-Portrait, Variation #3 will be exhibited at Loch Gallery from January 25-February 3 and then again at TrepanierBaer Gallery from February 6-10th.

John Hall's writes on his relationship with Evan Penny, the use of trompe l'oeil in realist artwork and the evolution of Framed: Phoenix 1 :

"Although Evan Penny and I both studied at the Alberta College of Art we were not there at the same time:  I had graduated in 1965, run the school’s gallery for a couple of years, and taught studio courses there for a year before taking a teaching position at the then very new University of Calgary’s department of art, just as Penny arrived to begin his ACA studies in 1971. One of my earliest recollections of the artist was on the occasion of an exhibition of my work that Ron Moppett organized for the ACA Gallery in 1978. There had been a small moment of crisis regarding the inclusion of the then fairly taboo word “fuck” in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, and Penny came forward to offer support for my protest against SAIT’s impending censorship. This began a friendship he and I enjoyed through the ‘80s. At that time, he and I were among a small number of Canadian artists who were attempting to breathe new life into the tradition of realist art. Many of our conversations centred on ideas and forms central to the American New Realist movement.

Trompe l'oeil, a minor subset of exploration within the lexicon of realist painting and sculpture, has to do with fooling viewers into believing that they are looking at the subject itself rather than a depiction of that subject. Neither Penny nor I wanted to be part of this tradition. To this end, Penny eschewed any comparisons of his work to photorealist sculptors such as, say, Duane Hanson and John de Andrea, who both used body casting as a primary technique. Instead, he favoured comparisons with an artist like the more classically trained sculptor Robert Graham.

Penny’s early figures were 3/4 life size, and although my paintings of that time did occasionally avoid deep pictorial space and include components—screw heads, masking tape, photographs—that painted at the right scale could easily have fallen down the trompe l'oeil rabbit hole, they were painted at a size much larger than the original objects. Penny’s Janet is 122 cm tall and my Long Island Sunset measures 102 x 102 cm. Our use of scale adjustments made it less easy for viewers to assume they were looking at something other than art.  

My painting Phoenix 1 is a reworking of Evan, the still life portrait I painted of Penny in 1984 and retired in the early-‘90s. It was only the second painting in which I experimented using the airbrush to achieve smooth value and colour transitions. Penny had come to my Calgary studio with a few props—a blue ceramic vessel, ostrich egg, plaster study of a hand, various photographs—and I photographed him against a background of canvas stretchers leaning against my studio wall. The resulting photograph provided the composition for the painting Evan. The painting was shown a number of times through the ‘80s and I reworked it a number of times during those years, including changing the background from the stacked stretchers to a star filled late evening sky.

However, after spending decades avoiding any reference to the trompe l'oeil tradition in my work, in 2016 I began a series of works depicting framed paintings that, surprisingly, fully embrace the trompe l'oeil genre. In my 91 x 91 cm Framed: Yellow Punch the frame is rendered with the goal of fooling viewers, if only for an instant, into believing it’s real. The painting in the frame, by contrast, contains rendered objects seemingly four or five times larger than life. Framed: Yellow Punch led to a subset of paintings depicting the backs of paintings. These paintings, through their inclusion of old labels, hardware, scratchings, bits of tape, etc. fully embrace and celebrate the trompe l'oeil tradition.  

Phoenix 1, the painting done from my 1984 painting Evan, takes the idea a small step forward in a couple of ways. First, the suggestion now is that Evan has been re-stretched back-to-front. To further confound or complicate things, it sits in an actual antique frame that has been modified and enhanced by my son Jarvis Hall, a Calgary gallerist and fine art framer. "                          John Hall, January 2018

Selected artwork: 
Framed: Phoenix 1 by John  Hall
(click to enlarge)
John Hall - Framed: Phoenix 1
Acrylic on Canvas
40 x 40 in
Thursday, January 25, 2018 - 10:00am - Saturday, February 3, 2018 - 5:30pm
Loch Gallery, Calgary

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