Private View: Friday 29th April, 6:30 - 9pm
A figure sits in an embroidered armchair against a purple curtain patterned with roses. It is, in some ways, a familiar, almost stereotypical middle-class domestic setting and yet, something’s amiss: where the figure’s head should be a white orchid is growing, its tendrils creating a spindly bridge between a vase and person’s neck; their hands are translucent and smokey; jagged chunks of earth hang suspended in the air. Bloomin ‘eck, the title painting of British artist Lee Simmonds’ solo exhibition at Kristin Hjellegjerde Berlin, welcomes us into a world where nothing is quite as it seems.
Simmonds’ compositions typically emerge through a deep engagement with the process of painting – his tools and materials. With this particular show, the artist found himself reflecting on some of his earlier works and how and why his practice had evolved in a certain direction. ‘I was struck by the intensity of detail in those images, which is something I’ve tried to avoid more recently because I tend to be working from my imagination and at a much larger scale, but I was curious to see if I could bring some of that back into my compositions,’ he says. Simmonds began by layering paint onto the canvas to build up a thick, textured surface which could support more precisely defined marks while also retaining a smooth fluidity. This is perhaps most clearly visible in the painting Untitled (dog) which depicts a figure lying in the grass between two trees. While the textures of the different elements are vividly rendered – the fabric, the grass, the bark of the tree – to create a powerful sense of tactility, the edges of the forms appear translucent and permeable. The figure’s face is smudged in the sky and the dog, at the forefront of the painting, seems to emerge from red earth that stains the grass amid bright flecks of canary yellow while, two smooth, shining spherical shapes – heads? – float like meteors.
While each painting is made in isolation, there is sometimes a synergy between certain forms and colours. This is most obviously the case with the paintings In Pursuit of Language and Harvest. In Pursuit of Language features a group of people gathered around a table seemingly preparing a meal except that their ingredients are shapes – cones, cubes, spheres – rather than food. The same shapes can be found hanging on the trees of Harvest. To Simmonds, these works are like ‘an allegory of painting’ in the sense that they describe his cerebral approach to selecting (harvesting) existing three-dimensional forms and manipulating them to create the painted image.
That’s not to say, however, that the artist’s process is purely pragmatic. Many of his compositions – such as Roses and Geraniums – are the result of an iterative drawing process which simultaneously clarifies and abstracts the image while paintings such as Fissures and Untitled (dog) were made without any preparatory studies. Meanwhile, I guess it’s a dog eat dog world if you see it that way was painted onto a canvas that the artist had previously scraped and washed with solvent to strip away the original layers of paint. ‘It gave me a really interesting surface to work on, but because I wanted to keep a lot of the texture that was already there, I had to be very specific and confident with my mark-making,’ he says. The resulting image – a tangle of naked, translucent, overlapping limbs – is one of the most compelling in the exhibition.
‘For me,’ says Simmonds, ‘these works feel like the past, present and future coming together. In making them, I glimpsed the painter that I was, am and want to be.’ At a time when our world so often seems to be flattened rather than expanded by the images that we see, Simmonds’ paintings invite us to see beyond the surface: to contemplate what painting does or can achieve.