THE INTAGLIOS (1968-1974)
Examples included in this exhibition are "Earth Altarpiece" (1972) consisting of nine plates printed simultaneously, including a schematic figure perched on a cliff in front of a moon. Landscape predominates as the work abides by Asian principles of the diminution of the figure. Here Simons, master printmaker, chooses a medieval altarpiece format with Bosch-like references in the minutiae represented.
Its companion, "Water Altarpiece," from the same year replaces the human image with an aged and venerable tree, stripped by wind of its foliage in the center of a calamitous landscape of mountain ranges and storm-tossed seas. The question in this eight-part print is whether we are witnessing a great beginning or a tumultuous conclusion of a momentous cosmological occurrence. What is clear, however, is Simons' assimilation of Hokusai's comment.
A disturbing and haunting intaglio from 1974 is the aquatint "May Be Used as an Extra Joker." The artist as witness is presented through a self-portrait set amidst tubular tire-like forms within a crypt-like setting before a bier of the dead. Simons stares out at us, and his right arm is wrapped with the leather phylacteries worn by devout Jews to symbolically bind them to God during prayer. A "gummy bear" figure in the upper left corner is an ironic contrast within this existential enigma.
In "Here Even Too" (1974), a female figure looms over a flattened vertical landscape rich in textural complexity. Odd cartoonish tree branches intermingle as a pillow-shaped gaseous cloud hovers in the foreground. The woman appears serene, yet her wrists are bound behind her neck. Perhaps this is a Joan of Arc metaphor about to spontaneously ignite. The sense of foreboding and premonition is unmistakable.
Joseph Slusky is a sculptor who lives in Berkeley, California. January 2003