After dropping my wife at the A train, it was too early for Harry’s* and I passed McDonalds, thinking about Simon’s show, the ultra-recognizability of the golden arches and stopping off for a sausage biscuit and how wrong that would be—my age! my weight! my politics!
When I restarted the car, it said “Stop engine now!” on account of having no oil pressure. Well, I was in the parking lot for three hours and the McStaff couldn’t have been nicer—the manager lent me her phone to call the tow, safe place out of traffic, coffee, clean bathrooms.
Simon has zeroed in on the recognizable as his dominant subject—not on the corporations themselves, but on their super-engineered logos. If you would care to spend some informative and confusing minutes, google “Cognitive neuroscience of visual object recognition”. “Invariant object recognition” (also known as object constancy) is the brain’s ability to recognize objects even if, like in Simon’s paintings, changes have been made in the size, color and orientation, and despite fragmentation and overlapping. Which parts of the brain achieve this is poorly understood, but there is no lack of theories including top-down and bottom-up—and various combinations of cortexes and lobes are proposed to come into play.
The paintings do not have the perfection of printed graphics: the colors are approximate and not solid and the proportions are a bit off as well. Relative to the logos themselves, they are “painterly” with underpaintings and slightly bleeding edges.
A distinguishing feature of all Simon’s work is not telling the viewer what her feelings and thoughts ought to be. This might bother some people who are used to that kind of thing, like people who wish to deplore together these horrible corporations or presumably the corporations themselves who wish to control their image. Personally, I experience this as a freedom.
I know Simon’s work well and Grey Babies (not a logo—not yet) is a good example of this reserve in his work. Whether or not to have a baby is one of the most difficult decisions a person can make—and not always a deliberate or even conscious decision either—lol—with good and bad consequences or possible consequences for everyone involved. Big as a decision before, huge as a responsibility, lifelong when we think of the big baby within. The babies are not cute and not not- cute. The painting flickers with my own thoughts and feelings.
And so do these infernal logos. Resentment at the corporate takeover of our lives, yes, but I remember my fascination with the CBS eye before I knew there was a schedule—I would simply stare at it until I found out if there was a cartoon behind it. At a discussion at the gallery, someone mentioned that it brought surveillance to mind and that’s another odd thing: logos accumulate baggage.
It was also mentioned at the discussion that when Esso changed its name to Exxon and away from the soft cuddly forms of their earlier logo, it was discussed as a sinister effect. I remember that too.
As for Nike, I like their tennis cap, though I don’t think that anyone will like Simon’s work because they like or dislike the corporation represented. It’s devilish that the corporations that Simon has chosen are used so much by the very people like me who hate the idea of their power-hungry monopolistic world domination. Perhaps I like the paintings, and painting itself, so much simply because they activate all those cortexes in my brain.
A few other points that came up in discussion were their relation to hard-edged geometric abstraction which I would say is funny but superficial, and a related thought that many contemporary artists create their own logo-like recognizability and Simon’s work might be commenting on that.
Another question was whether a single painting of this series would be recognized as figurative, or rather seen as abstract. For me, to call it abstract would take away from its meaningfulness; I think every painter builds a context in which their work is seen—whether Cezanne or Ellsworth Kelly—that once understood, no matter how long that takes, informs and makes more meaningful a single work. The article cited above mentions that too: “Context allows for a much greater accuracy in object recognition.”
Perhaps I should have disclosed that two Simons hang on the wall of my house, full of ambivalent and contradictory thoughts and feelings relating to the works that preceded them, the current work and to what he’ll paint next.
*Harry’s Auto Repair, 421 Meeker Ave, Greenpoint, Bklyn