THE SERIGRAPHS (1975-1984)
This series of works constitutes a major shift in Simons' imagery. Driven by a new and radically different medium, he expands his thematic range. Images of primordial fire, destruction and rebirth dominate these years. His focus on conflagration, enigma and premonition are addressed symbolically through a sharp-edged clarity of style and form enhanced by flat and brilliant color. Suddenly Simons' images manifest an exhilarating directness with a pop-inspired chromatic brilliance fueled by the sharpness and the absolute clarity of form afforded to the serigraphy artist by the robustness of the medium itself.
In the print "In Oakland There Were Reports of Trouble by the Lake" (1981), Simons has created a vivid and primordial image of destruction and rebirth. Carmine and metallic silver dominate this turbulent environment.
In this searing work, shards of form merge into a grouping of obsidian hands, flaming and charred but strangely pulsating with life. Pyrrhic and fragmented, yet bright and vivid, these hands are symbols of destruction, supplication and redemption. The whirling, licking flames complete a dramatic tableaux of primal violence.
In "Portrait of Judy" (1983) Simons presents a disintegrating universe contrasted against a flat sky of cerulean blue. The psychological isolation of a pondering figure is set inside a coded diagram relating to an unknown system. This portrait of the artist's wife is both literal and abstract, its perspective seemingly shattered in Hubble-esque space. There is also an aspect of expectancy and lurking dread despite the predominance of high key primary and tinted hues.
"Surrealism and Chinese Art" (1983) is a work suffused with humor and wit. Chinese art is not usually associated with western systems of perspective but here ancient Chinese figures are reluctant witnesses to a discourse between east and west. A perspective grid recedes to a twentieth century abstract sculpture engulfed in blue flames. This atmosphere which appears completely restrained and understated reveals a totally improbable, anti-gravitational and disjointed system, pictorially connected yet thematically turned upside-down.
"The Immortal Individual and the Machinery of Penitence" (1984) depicts an irradiated humerus, ulnar and radius. These bones of the human arm are rendered in precise anatomical proportions. The intense blue set against a flat black landscape results in a chromatic glow vibrating with richness and warmth. Simons has outlined the arm's contour with a lucid green line to indicate how it could have been encased within a living being. Prayer straps reappear in this work, now dancing and falling, with balletic gracefulness, around the arm's outer contour. This is one of several of Simons' works referencing Holocaustal destruction.
"Night Still Life with Flowers and Fish" (1986) represents the conclusion of Simons' activities in the context of traditional printmaking. Its profusion of delicate red leaves resulted from a long labor of love in the delicate and precise cutting of film stencils. Here the Braque-like fish in the platter are irradiated. This work signals a specific shift in materials. Upon finishing the still life, Simons noticed that details of the pitcher in the foreground had been omitted. His solution was to use an oil stick to fill in the missing elements.
With this simple act of correction, all of Simons' subsequent work would be made in what he calls a "Constructed" format. This includes elements from any medium demanded by the visual and conceptual necessities within the pictures themselves. The artist now employs oil paints and sticks, acrylics, glues, electrostatics, found materials, colored pencil, photographs and, perhaps most significantly, remnants of intaglio, silkscreen, and monotype images which he transposes into his new works. Simons' printmaking background continues to propel the serialization and repetition of similar images.
Joseph Slusky is a sculptor who lives in Berkeley, California. January 2003