Jan Weinner Gallery
The rural iconography of gas pumps, Ferris wheels, outhouses, barbed wire and stars are represented in 13 pastel on vellum drawings and one DVD piece at Gary Simmons' recent show at Jan Weiner Gallery. Simmons signature drawing style is marked by excessive amounts of pastel or chalk that has been partially erased and rubbed out by the artist's own hand. The image and its residue leave a rich palimpsest that is effective on a visceral and conceptual level, the former invoked through the artists own handprints being dragged across the highly crafted images and the latter by his equal understanding of the contemporary street vernacular channeled through a Cal Arts education.
Simmons most famous representational motif is the five-pointed star. The basic image that many doodlers scribble to pass the time Simmons finds a way to ascribe multiple levels of meaning to. In "Large Filled Stars" there are 7 pastel filled stars on vellum, each one dark black with surfeited amounts of pastel engrained on the vellum papers surface. The stars are not stylized with any details; rather they are drawn in a heavily gestural style that gives them an active feel. The negative image of the usually bright white banal imagery is the first suggestion that the images meaning lay beyond the celestial. Simmons' presence is felt over the entire piece of paper, he has physically erased parts of the images by dragging his hands across the pastel and distorting their recognizable shapes into near abstraction, leaving marks and fingerprints behind to leave no doubt that there remains a personal and socio history behind his marks. The smeared stars are a fleeting image, they appear like they will be wiped away permanently, their current state temporary, they contain a parallel history to that of the real world. Literally speaking the Black Star was the name of the ship Marcus Garvey planned to use to end the Diaspora of former slaves back to a utopian colony in Africa. Simmons' stars linger in history in other ways also, the negative space of the paper does not hold them, they look active and we do not know if in their journey they have reached their brightest moment, or if they are burning out and on their way to total disintegration. "Dessert Blizzard" the one DVD piece included in the show reinforces the feeling of brevity in the drawings. In a remarkable companion to the drawings the DVD shows a skywriters "drawing" five pointed stars in the air with the smoke from the airplane. As the video progresses we witness the stars come to fruition, diminish and vanish as a new one is created.
In "Study for Ma and Pa" the object being represented are two outhouses that linger in negative space, laid side by side with one building slightly higher on the plane of paper than the other creates a slightly asymmetrical composition. With no background to affix them to the partially erased buildings occupy a space beyond a physical location, one that resides in the memory, the imagination, or the mythical. "Tex-a-flame" subject is a vintage gasoline pump on fire, it's the kind of pump you might still find a few miles off the interstate in anywhere U.S.A. The pump's flames and billowing smoke have been smudged with the artist's hands and flow up the sides of the paper. The image is ghostly and the associations it references are vast: a candle, a burning tower, a Klansman. Like "Study for Ma and Pa", "Tex-a-Flame" is drawn free from the context of a back or foreground, occupying only the left quarter of the five foot piece of paper the composition solidifies Simmons' mastery of space to create the effect of the ephemeral.