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Wednesday 13 April 2011

Concepts of Memory and Time: Gary Simmons, Simon Lee Gallery, London

Review by Sarah Richter a candidate for the MA in Art History at Richmond the American International University in London.

Haven’t we all wondered if antiques, places and objects from the past contain stories, memories of what has occurred and been seen. American artist Gary Simmons examines these same issues, confronting them in a most unconventional way. His second solo show, Shine, currently on exhibit at the Simon Lee Gallery draws its inspiration from Stanley Kubrick’s unforgettable 1980 horror film The Shining. The over sized images take their cue from memorable motifs and moments from the film, such as tricycle in Big Wheel Spiral and the infamous quote, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” in The Diamond and Full Page. In addition to drawing inspiration from this American film classic, Simmons takes inspiration from the structure of the Bryce Hospital in Alabama. This hospital served as an institution for African Americans who were considered insane and unfit for a place in contemporary society in the early 20th century. These large-scale works dominate the walls and gallery space of Simon Lee creating an inescapable impact.

The body of work makes references to the idea of haunted spaces, filled with memories and stories that aren’t immediately visible to the viewer, but that exist within the figures Simmons has chosen to represent. He has moved away from using paint and canvas, and instead uses black paper with white chalk and pastels. By employing this more uncontrollable medium, Simmons has the ability to smear his work in such a way that suggests a sense of movement and heightens the feeling that the structures and spaces are alive, attempting to tell their stories.

Full Page is composed of twenty panels that band together to make one large, cohesive image. Reading from left to right, the text reads “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Over and over again, the same sentence is repeated, rewritten and thus the idea is reiterated to the viewer over and over again. The idea of repetition reminds the viewer of schoolboy punishments. As the words rise off the page and come to life, the viewer too comes to understand that all work and no play DOES make Jack a dull boy. The writing is sketchy and rushed, which in the minds of a movie watching populous, evokes feelings of someone’s inner voice manifesting their presence in a visible way. As you read the lines of text over and over again, the phrase ingrains itself in the memory and thus, Simmons piece has made an impression and the viewer has associated their own personal memory with this piece and its content.

Dominating the same wall are two images Chandelier Hallway (White) and Chandelier Hallway (Black). Both are images of chandeliers with one drawn in black on white paper and the other white on black paper respectively. Clearly identifiable as a chandelier, Simmons has smeared them in such a way that they seem to uncontrollable spinning, building up momentum and about to leap out of the safety of their frame. Simultaneously ominous and hypnotic, he has given something mundane a personality. This chandelier could exist on any plane, abandoned in a mysterious mansion or hidden in a corner of an antique store forgotten and discarded. By placing them in motion it seems that a temporal space is born, in which the object has removed itself from it’s surroundings to find new life and share the memories it posses.

Shine is a fascinating exploration of the memories possessed in an object, a place, person or thing. When confronted with these images the viewer allows them to permeate their psyche and thus one can recall their own memory. The images create allow the viewer to create a space by standing in front of the image itself and allowing it to affect them beyond an aesthetic appreciation. The movement inherent in each piece is undeniable and thus Simmons’ successfully conveys the feelings associated with the past coming alive, jumping out of the objects that contain history and bringing itself to the viewer. The work lends the viewer a sense of falling down the rabbit hole and viewing objects of daily life whirl by like the often unobtainable concepts of memories and time.

Gary Simmons Shine continues until 31 May. Fore more information visit the Simon Lee Gallery website.

Gary Simmons
Twins 2011
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery, London

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