In a manageable show of six paintings in Art Moving’s snug space, Adam Simon wrestles with ideas about consumer culture and its effects on human interaction and activity. The show adopts the name of a nemesis, Halliburton, and the paintings make use of silhouettes and colors that appear to be drawn form advertising imagery, TV, and magazines. The problem, in painting, with bending your art to ape the forms of your subject is that you risk the content overwhelming the work. So it is with three of Simon’s paintings in this show.
"Panic" is a good example. Two large orange figures, a man and a woman in hard-edge silhouette, run toward the viewer. They are set against a stippled gray-black ground with highway yellow paint coating the sides of the canvas. These are Nike sneaker colors. One almost expects to see the swooping insignia at the corner of the canvas. Perhaps Simon is seeking to illustrate the panic associated with being trapped in a world run by Nike and its competitors. If so, he misses the mark. These athletic figures are headed to the volleyball court, not fleeing disaster. The plastic finish of the piece only serves to deepen the feeling of consumer calm.
"Woman Walking" succumbs to a similar fate. Here, a feminine form all in black sashays toward us, perhaps out of the pages of Elle or the J. Crew catalogue. She is set against a suede-brown ground. You can’t relate to this woman’s existential condition as a prisoner of capitalism because she doesn’t have an identity. She is just another form, cut out, pasted on, and left hanging. Just next to "Woman Walking" is "Family," the goopy, pastel blues of which are faintly nauseating. Mother, father, and two children skip hand-in-hand in happy postures. Yes, the nuclear family is a myth. But there is not enough sympathy for the figures in this painting to evoke new feelings about that old idea. They’re headed for their new, extra-room-in-back, sliding door Aerostar, not struggling to make sense of their condition.
But the news isn’t all bad, and Simon wrestles responsibly with heavy material. "Tennis" reveals the artist working with the silhouette once again, but this time larger, pushing out at the edges of the canvas. Over the impasto form of the female player, Simon gracefully scrapes in the form of a skirt exposing the white beneath the painting’s blue surface. He starts to model a knee and paints the face solid black. It is as though he has begun to sense the incongruence of his simple methods and complex ideas. This seems to be confirmed by the most recently completed painting in the show, "Slice."
With a classical poise, "Slice" allows Simon unexpected liberties as he superimposes three silhouettes on top of one another— a couple talking over a woman’s up-turned head over a couple kissing. The subtly modulated contours blend together seamlessly over a moss-green ground. The full palette (Simon reveals himself a gifted colorist) complements the intricacy of the painting’s structure. The work seems to be about exchange, a "Slice" of life in which the multifarious poses and motivations that drive human interaction are explored. What do we seek from one another? Communication? Love? This painting, unlike the others in this show, begs these questions. As ever, Simon’s silhouettes flatten what they touch, but in this case, he has forced the questions on me and I experience the flattening as urgency. The danger of capitalism’s consumerism is that it tends away from answering important questions such as those posed by "Slice." The issues addressed in Simon’s earlier paintings are contained and surpassed in this piece, and one gets the feeling that the artist has had a breakthrough.
ContributorBen La Rocco