Both Sides of Now
11.12.14 – 25.01.15
SMAC Gallery is proud to present Both Sides of Now, Simon Stone’s second major solo exhibition with the gallery.
What better title could one devise for an evaluative, mid-career exhibition by a leading artist than Both Sides of Now? The four words clearly imply two time frames – and a bit of the old and a bit of the new. ‘Now’ is the dividing line separating the artist’s previous work, which tells us where he is coming from, from his current output, which tells us where he is going. Common to both past and present are the seemingly random conjunctions of unrelated motifs that have always been the crux of Simon Stone’s art. Juxtaposition is his trade mark, and the visual bewitchment that one associates with his name, emerges in particularly mesmerizing form from his cryptic visual miscellanies.
Stone is most fully himself in paintings like The Fifth Tree of Nonsense (2014) which fills the field with apparently fortuitous combinations of images of different subjects relating to different realms, different genres and different styles, and it is his choice of juxtaposition as his compositional method that gives rise to the problems his paintings present. Finding the logical thread linking the separate images is difficult, problematizing interpretation, and explaining why many viewers claim that Stone’s work relies purely on its visual impact, and that it fails to ‘say’ anything.
A landscape, a seascape, a cityscape, a still-life depicting gilded porcelain objets de haut luxe, a pure abstract colour field painting and a simulated black and white photograph of an outhouse on a farm all combine in The Fifth Tree of Nonsense. The question mark that looms so insistently over such creations is whether the juxtapositions are deliberate and meaningful, or random and meaningless, merely phrasing a nihilistic statement about the crisis of Western culture and the breakdown of meaning. The six paintings within the painting are formally united by the trunk and the branches of the tree behind them. These forge physical and formal links between the various images, and posit some mystic affinity between the different phenomena to which they allude. Stone’s lexicon of occult symbols such as the French curve reinforce this claim to hidden unity and broader significance.
‘Now’ has another flipside, and that is eternity. The search for the ultimate truth lying behind appearances, for the key that unlocks the mysteries of time, space, love, friendship, the physical universe and man’s relationship to it. These are themes implicit in Stone’s alter-ego; the seeker, or searcher as seen in Not Myself (2014), and the recurring theme of wandering the face of the earth in the quest for enlightenment, travelling the endless highways slicing through the Karoo, driving through teeming city streets, or pursuing the quest before a blackboard, or through celebration and cogitation, like Stone’s doppelgangers in paintings like; Nude in the Chair (2014), Bullet Train (2014) and The Aerodrome (2014).
Stone posits a meaning, but he does not define that meaning. His paintings ask far more from from the viewer than they deliver. Each poses an exegetical challenge, and demands that the viewer define the content and meaning of the work for himself. Not Myself‘s very inscrutibility becomes part of its allure, for Stone’s every picture is a puzzle, possessed of the irresistable fascination of riddles, rebuses, brain-teasers and conundrums. Like the infuriating unsolved clue in a crossword, one simply cannot get Stone’s paintings out of your mind. Their mystery proves obsessive. They hook and snag into consciousness, forcing us to endlessly ponder and mull as we seek to work out the puzzle and resolve the enigma.
Both Sides of Now indicates that the artist has mellowed, and the vehement anti-apartheid historical and political paintings that Stone executed as a fiery young rebel in a wild, compulsive Neo-Expressionist style have vanished from his ouevre. The angry young man has now attained poise and serenity, and the smaller gestural improvisations and lyrical impromptus that he now produces in such volume, explore the nature and potential of paint, brushwork and mark-making, and have become dreamy, playful and wholly dedicated to visual pleasure, poetry and delight.
Simon Stone was born in 1952 in Lady Grey, and currently lives and works in Cape Town. He graduated from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, in 1976 and later continued his education in Italy. Since 1978, he has exhibited widely, both locally and abroad and his work forms part of the most important public, corporate and private collections in South Africa and internationally. In 2013, the Standard Bank Gallery, in collaboration with SMAC Gallery, presented Simon Stone: A Retrospective Exhibition in Johannesburg. This was the first comprehensive review devoted to Stone’s career of thirty-five years. Simon Stone: Collected Works, Lloyd Pollak’s chronological survey of the painter’s stylistic and thematic development from his student years to the present, was published to accompany this exhibition. In 2011, SMAC Gallery presented Stone’s solo exhibition Thrown Together in Cape Town. Earlier this year, his work was included in Objects in the Tide of Time: Celebrating Our Permanent Collection at the IZIKO South African National Gallery in Cape Town.