Simon Lee Gallery presents an exhibition of new paintings, wall work and sound sculptures by New York based artist Gary Simmons, in his third solo show at the gallery.
In his new body of work Simmons continues to excavate politics, music, race and class within American and British culture. Drawing on the DIY aesthetic of punk, dub and early hip hop music and the tradition of street fly-posting to promote gigs and events, Simmons’ rainbow saturated coloured paintings reveal traces of the long forgotten individual and collective creative voices that have informed and shaped contemporary culture. An important analogue communication device in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, fly-posters, along with fanzines and mix-tapes, contributed to creating local scenes and regional cultures. Battles and protests were played out in poster form, plastered in the dead of night one on top of another, building a visual diary of a place and its people.
Eventually ripped down or weather beaten, these hand-crafted, type-set promotional images, invitations and declarations became outdoor wallpaper, passed largely unnoticed each day. Echoing the posters’ lifecycle and the zeal and desire inherent in their original design and intention, Simmons builds up layer after layer of sections of found posters in his paintings; sourcing, cropping, re-colouring, re-printing, tearing and juxtaposing incongruous events and chronologies to invoke a familiar, dynamic language through a series of fragmented memories.
These paintings, with their partially erased images, ghostly texts and disconnected symbols, remind us that we are constructed by personal experiences, fantasies, perceptions and external events. Simmons’ paintings resist nostalgia yet reflect the process of history-making and our need to deconstruct, rework, reframe and to build upon what has been before. Whilst referencing marketing techniques that deftly seduce the viewer, Simmons renders any didactic message redundant, calling into question the speed and proliferation of mass marketing in a digital age and the commoditisation of youth cultures.
Incorporating low-fi and mass-produced materials in his work, Simmons reflects the vitality of individual and collective action for a common good. Mounted onto plywood surfaces, Simmons’ paintings reference hoardings and construction sites, reminding us of the temporality of culture, its questionable accessibility and recalling the objecthood and impact of these aesthetic interventions in the public realm.
A large 4m x 4m unique wall work in this series frames three new speaker sculptures, made from reclaimed wood found from buildings affected by hurricane Katrina, in The Treme area of New Orleans. Simmons was inspired by
The Black Ark, the recording studio of reggae and dub producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, built in 1973 in Kingston, Jamaica. Perry is infamous for his early adoption of effects and remixing, working with artists such as Bob Marley and the Wailers, Junior Murvin, Max Romeo and many others. His songs are layered with a variety of beats created from everyday objects and human expressions – from crying babies to rainfall and grinding broken glass. Perry referred to The Black Ark as a living thing, a life itself and Simmons was interested in “how he constructed an audio sound through an aesthetic gesture”.
Utilising the same DIY aesthetic and perched atop makeshift plinths (a trolley, trestle and saw horses) each of the three sculptures stands alert, a unique character yet collectively ready for action, to command, move or sway a group, a community or to engage in a dialogue with one enthusiastic individual. A direct development from Simmons’ performative sculpture Recapturing Memories of the Black Ark, (2014), these sculptures are part subject, part architectural model, part plaza.
An accompanying film of past Recapturing Memories of the Black Ark performances by Beans (New Orleans, 2014) and Ghostpoet (Basel, 2015) activate the sculptures and implicate the gallery and attending audience as a potential
site for change.