EL NINO (1995-2012)
In recent years Simons' images have continued to assume diverse guises and personas beyond the human realm. These are our new guides, our new vantage points.
In "Numbers Guide for the Perplexed" (1995), a Soutine-esque smiling toy frog reigns triumphantly waving over a charred landscape which includes a confetti refuse dump. Delacroix's "Liberty" is now a flagless amphibian.
Throughout the composition are random numbers mingled with streams of dried glue resembling the trodden pathways of a small company of snails.
This piece is a continuation of the theme of mass murder with its obsessive numbering and counting which accompanied the atrocities of mid-twentieth century Europe. The bright, almost poster-like visual appeal of this happy frog contrasts strangely with its ominous content.
An optimistic counterpoint to this piece is the 1997 oil on paper "Tortuga de Judit." Here is yet another creature adapted from a children's toy. This turtle is an action figure projecting strength and power. Clad in a black body-builder's muscle shirt, he breaks through the picture plane towards us, his muscular legs shimmering with iridescent gold and turquoise hues.
Much of Simons' recent work has been centered on images of chickens, usually naked and often bruised and scarred.
Simons communicates a confrontational metaphor in the "chicken works." Benign and innocent, they go quietly to their anonymous deaths by the millions daily. The anonymous mass exodus from the world appears to be the interface point of Simons' connection.
In works like "La Dance" (1998), there is a sense of transcendence afforded this now graceful bird. Here the chicken, known for its jerky and stuttering movement, weightlessly floats above a field of multi-colored space debris. There is an undeniable Chagall romantic element enveloping this scene. Screen printed blue triangular forms and elaborate border devices frame the avian dancer. The chicken may be plucked and humiliated, yet it is nevertheless a dignified consciousness.
"The Orderly Departure" (2000) uses sixteen chicken forms, each contained in its own private space. The cell-like spaces look like pages of open books or possibly blocks of cool blue ice. This painting attempts both to universalize and to individualize. Each form varies only slightly from its mates, and thus we seek to scrutinize all of them for differentiating characteristics. There is a strong sense of serial motion in a Muyrbridge-like treatment. The birds appear helpless and resigned, yet somehow they maintain a sense of deportment as they move along on an implied conveyor belt to their destinies.
In "The Disarranged Departure" (2001), a carnival of lively and animated subjects assume diverse postures and appear to pose for one another. They appear to be cavorting, affectionate, kissing and intermingling in an absurd effort to transcend their predestined fate. This work speaks ironically to vitality and to life. The uplifting color scheme of bright oranges, yellows and greens provides a vivid matrix to this dark drama.
In the end, Simons' oeuvre with all of its pictorial paradoxes is visually accessible, beautiful, and a celebration of the human condition. He relishes the new and the exploration of uncharted and untraveled climes. Simons' commitment to his vision is compelling, and he touches real dimensions of our commonality.
Joseph Slusky is a sculptor who lives in Berkeley, California. January 2003