Last week at The Stagecoach, a relatively new gallery in Downtown Duluth, I saw some paintings by Simon Gray for possibly the first time. I was attracted to the intellectual playfulness as well as the structural design and execution of the pieces themselves. Local potter/artist Tonya Borgeson suggested that I would find it worthwhile to look at more of Gray's work, and when I did I remained impressed. He now lives in the Southwest so this interview was conducted by email.
Ennyman: How did you first become interested in art?
Simon Gray: I come from a family of artists. My grandfather, father and uncle all painted water colors. My brothers all drew and painted and creating art was the only thing I was ever interested in doing all through school.
E: Who are your biggest influences?
SG: My second major in my BFA program was Art History, I think the symbols in my work come from my interest in primitive people's art on cave walls and stones. We humans have always left symbols behind us.
Apart from that, my current influences range from film and television to advertising. I am inspired with the overlay of information on top of backgrounds and how that draws focus, and creates a narrative.
My biggest influence is the television news where you have a talking head in front of a background, another image up and to the side of the head and a scroll of words below the head. Somehow we take all this in a matter of course, and the narrative may or not be cohesive but it is always compelling to me.
E: How did you come to take an interest in cartooning?
SG: The cartooning quality comes from simplifying personal symbols so they become almost shorthand for me.
Cuneiform was the original starting place for my symbols, then Asian characters, then some simplified 2d images, and finally they evolved into the forms they are today.
E: I find it interesting the way your small 3-D images on various wood surfaces transform the whole piece into a 3-D landscape. What are you trying to accomplish with these pieces?
SG: I consider myself a Literal Artist.
LITERALISM - (Literal Painting) - Usually, consists of 3 things:
1. Multiplicity of painting styles on the same surface.
This establishes a surface, then denies or breaks that surface. The illusion of depth is both created and destroyed.
A visual tension is created that parallels the literal tension, felt by those of us who were taught by Modernists. We are wrestling to reestablish communication with our audiences. This communication was established by the Realist painters, broken by the Modernist painters, and has been occasionally nodded at ever since.
Most painters today have fallen comfortably into one of two camps: The seamless illusion of depth on a two dimensional surface, or: The establishment of the surface, by the deliberate application of the media.
But there are a few of us playing in the vapors between.
It’s not realism. It’s not abstraction
It’s both. And neither. At the same time.
It’s realism, under a plate of glass.
It’s abstraction, with a drop shadow.
2. A visual narrative, that may or may not make sense.
The visual narrative is unique to the artist. My works are screen shots. The running text scrolling under the nightly news, with imagery floating in the background. A talking head. Sound bites. Bits of conversations. Talking points. Some very important. Some nonsense. But all of it is a part of my daily existence. The same as it was for the painters in the caves of Lascaux.
3. A feeling of history, in the imagery or materials.
History is a key part of the picture. I am one in a long tradition of human beings who feel compelled to scratch out imagery on some kind of surface. The surfaces of my work must reflect this history. Some surfaces are found, and bring their own past. Some I have deliberately aged. The role of history in my work also has a personal connection for me. My grandfather, father and uncle were all self taught landscape painters. I still use their brushes.
To me this is just a mirror of the contemporary society I live in. My paintings are literally pages from a continuing diary. The imagery is what is in my head at the moment, and the background is what was suggested by the materials. I don't try to force too much of myself onto the materials.
E: What are you currently working on and where do you see yourself in five years?
SG: Currently I am working on found metal blanks. Most of my materials are salvaged or re-purposed surfaces. The detritus of modern society. The surfaces come to me with a history already and I can carry that story forward and add my own narrative.
I cannot predict what my next piece will look like, let alone projects 5 years down the road. The materials direct me, they are my path, I just follow.
E: What's the best way for others to see more of your work?
SG: The best place to see my work is at simongray.com. I am constantly uploading images. There is a link titled 'art' that leads to a page of paintings, some of which I did when i was living in the UK a few years ago.
There is also a wealth of other madness and scribblings there including music, books and my online cartoon series 'Yelling At Bees'. Maybe I to have too much spare time on my hands... hmmm.
FOR BEST RESULTS, CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE