Premonitions and Paradoxes

Joseph Slusky

Imagine an unblinking eye staring obsessively outward from an oversized, Asian-inspired image of a bird. Assertive, powerful and heroic, yet strangely vulnerable, the bird bears witness to an event, an explosion, a cataclysm, set in a surrealistic landscape. With poster-like clarity, there exists a network of enigmatic symbols and puzzling points of reference within this highly-charged realm.

This, in fact, is one of a group of works, made between 1990 and 1997, which follows a thematic journey taken by Simons over a thirty-year period of time employing a variety of media and approaches predicated on the themes of bearing witness, conflagration, loss, and memory.

Simons acts as chronicler, observer, and charter of diverse reference points based on biomorphic surrealism. His longstanding fascination with Chinese landscape painting and Japanese printmaking is instantly recognizable in his iconic Pop-influenced images. His work embodies an exposition of bridges between disparate sources.

The artist began his career in art with an intensive interest in early twentieth century metaphysical and Surrealist artists, particularly de Chirico, Magritte and Tanguy. Added to this was his great enthusiasm for the quiet dignity, the reverence for nature, and the elegant restraint of traditional Chinese landscape painting. Another early influence was his passion for Ukiyo-e school of printmaking and painting as expressed by artists like Hokusai and Hiroshige.

Vibrant and explosive use of color often masks a darker thematic content referencing contemporary events and solemn moments in the history of the twentieth century. This exhibition enables us to step back and to thoroughly absorb the restless and experimental nature of Simons' work depicting a world in continual flux and transition, a world of stasis and often convulsive destruction.

For me, his art is permeated with historical references which he draws upon both consciously and subliminally as both practitioner and theorist.

The vehicle which he first employed to realize his vision was intaglio printmaking. Simons found that, through mastering the technical demands of traditional printmaking, he was able to begin to focus his vision and to begin putting into pictorial forms the themes which he would continue to develop for thirty years. In regard to the earliest works in the show, Simons paraphrased the great Japanese artist Hokusai (1760-1849): "Give me some black ink and I'll show you all the colors in the world"!

Joseph Slusky is a sculptor who lives in Berkeley, California. January 2003