Washed Out: Paintings by Will Penny at Rymer Gallery

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Prismatic: Paintings by Will Penny
When: Through May 25
Where: The Rymer Gallery

Look at one of Will Penny's paintings from a distance, and it appears three-dimensional — an assortment of triangular and trapezoidal facets that interlock to produce a sort of abstract mountain range. Get closer, and you'll see that's exactly what it is, although not quite in the way you may have thought.

Penny's current exhibit at The Rymer Gallery features geometric panels painted in trompe l'oiel gradients that emphasize their contours, but exaggerated and in dreamy hues that suggest a lurid sunset rather than the neutral lighting of an art gallery. The resulting tension between painterly illusion and 3-D reality makes these paintings mesmerising to view.

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Penny's process starts with three-dimensional modeling softwear; he sculpts jagged shapes by manipulating points on a flat plane and experiments with different lighting effects. Once a design is established, he assembles his larger pieces from wood and putty (smaller pieces are cast from resin) before painstakingly applying spray paint.

Although they possess an innate aesthetic appeal, these works are deeply concerned with such conceptual matters as the nature of mimesis. Penny explains that the series sprang from a career crisis two years ago: “I had this very particular skill set of being able to do traditional oil panting and being able to paint realistically and mimic form and mimic light and shadow, but I didn't quite know what to do with that. I was stuck in a rut of 'what do I paint?' ” His solution was a "minimalistic approach of trying to think about ... what are the inherent properties of the medium of painting?”

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While the finished product looks completely different, the conceptual goal is similar to that of midcentury abstract expressionism. “I can play the same game that was played in the ’50s and ’60s," says Penny, "of bringing painting back down to this very simple, logical thing ... It's really trying to create the same effects that I'd be trying to create in [oil paint,] but in a roundabout, different way.”

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