Under the Surface

Kidder Smith Gallery
The Boston Globe, by Cate McQuaid, May 9, 2003

Cheryl Simeone’s paintings at Kidder Smith Gallery are disquieting. Simeone, a California artist, starts by laying down one color on canvas, then builds up strips of paint, either horizontal or vertical, in another. The base color peers through the wavering interstices, like an embarrassed blush not quite hidden by makeup.

Yet the makeup – the painting’s surface – has a lush, inviting beauty. Simeone paints in saturated, warm tones: reds, yellows, and purples so intense you want to sink your hands into them. The paint gathers, smudges, and flakes away. Despite the sense of build-up and hot colors, there never seems to be quite enough. In “Yellow II,” the warm yellow hovers over a red ground, showing through in horizontal lines. The surface, airy here, dense there, changes as quickly as the expressions on an infant’s face.

The interstices read like an unsteady pulse. In “Reds IX,” the base paint is dark. The red curtain over it seems to lean left, then right. Stand in front of it and you feel as if you’re swaying. Simeone paints expertly. The variability of the surface and the anxious hint of the depths beneath suggest she has plenty more to say.

Cheryl Simeone: Paintings 2002-2003
At Kidder Smith Gallery, 131 Newbury St.

Three virtuosos Miriam Tinguely, Cheryl Simeone, Peter Fink
Gallery JJ Hofstetter La Liberte, Switzerland
by Monique Durussel
October 19, 2005 – November 12,

Gallery Jean-Jacques Hofstetter is showing paintings of the American Cheryl Simeone; prints, watercolors and drawings by Miriam Tinguely and ceramics of Peter Fink, three artists of top-flight performance. Miriam Tinguely continues to work in her studio in small formats Mont Pelerin. She offers three techniques here. A series of engravings depicting small figures in weightlessness. A series of delicate tissue paper collages superimposing drawings leaving reflected in a game animation. Other collages are embellished in ink. Beautiful work in watercolors where Miriam Tinguely revives perhaps with angels. The heads entangled in improbable human pyramids seem to descend from heaven to take a walk on earth.

Small formats with oil on canvas by Cheryl Simeone coexist happily with the work rather intimately with her friend Miriam Tinguely. The American artist, who lives in San Francisco, came to Freiburg because of her long artistic collaboration with the daughter of Jean Tinguely. Cheryl Simeone submerges under the color. Her works  surfaces are like walls or hanging textiles in which, layer by layer, appear horizontal or vertical grids. This long application of the material creates a colorful spatial effect “like the waves of a river running through the canvas,” says the artist.

Retro shapes and colors in the basement reserved for the ceramist Peter Fink Ependes. The jump back in the seventies is managed in a fun way. The artist offers large dishes and vases that remind us of “Barbapapas”. More seriously, these vases have organic shapes and bright colors are glazed or acids. The decorations, traces in matter, inlays in the structure, playing on the contrast of color and black. An aesthetic world of sandstone, polished black slip and colored enamels.

The Exhibition opens until November 12, 2005, Thursdays and Fridays from 14-18: 30 pm, Saturday from 10 to 12 am and 14-16 pm at the Gallery JJ Hofstetter in Freiburg.

Cheryl Simeone
Paintings 2002-2003
by: Sean Finney
May, 2003

“Ripples on a lake, tiles in a courtyard, things I could look down on and immerse myself in from above or surfaces like walls or hanging textiles that I could walk towards,” is how one collector articulates the pull of Simeone’s new paintings, in which the sensuous world and concerns about the history of painting intersect.

Prominent in the series are the lines at regular intervals that stretch the length of the canvas. Each painting has what seems half a grid, either the horizontal or the vertical. Upon closer examination it’s clear the lines are not marks applied but remnants of the colored ground, the stretched linen, upon which the artist has built up layers of color that have been manipulated as if to register natural laws that weather brick and wooden walls, puncture the uniformity of a cloudy sky, or make patterns in stones cut for human building. Her works are paeans to the handmade, like rugs that are more valuable for their imperfections and uneven natural dyes.

The painter, however, does far more than make an argument against the uniformity of mass production.

A Perfect World?
The strand of twentieth century painting that begins with Mondrian, proceeds to minimalism and on to the extravagantly colored later work of Sol LeWitt and Platonic discipline of grids by Agnes Martin, has plumbed the depths of rigorous visual grammars that comprise a language of perfected visual forms. Near geometrical ultimates have been intoned by Malevich, Albers, and their followers–many of whom have been very successful in refining the arguments for the supremacy of abstract form over reproductions of visual reality. Simeone, by contrast, does not wield a straight edge. Her dark lines are obscured by colors that dominate the real estate of the canvas. The intervals between the lines suggest ideals of regularity and deliberate repetition, but only at first glance. The horizontal and vertical channels are smudged, they bow in and out to alter the intervals above and below. The paintings do not rely on absolutes but evoke the scintillating accretions of natural processes­–and they are reminders to look anew at the layered world around us. Simeone’s paintings are abstract in the sense of refining sensuous vision: a crepuscular horizon topped with a band of luminous cloud and the growing dark in the sky above, furrows in the yellow earth, the timbers of a house, rain, the regularity of landscape revealed by altitude–these are the visual phenomena and ideas that her disciplined paintings show us anew.

Scratching the Past
Scratches, bars, numbers and cursive marks cover swathes of the artist’s earlier canvasses. Like a word chanted until its meaning is drained and the syllables are revealed as arbitrary sounds, Simeone makes the repeated sign new and strange for the viewer. In terms of affinities, her marks lie between the careful geometries of Agnes Martin and the controlled fury of Cy Twombly’s repeated scribbles. In the new work, the lines are of course more outline than specific signs. The viewer is asked to look afresh at questions of interval and regularity and how the imperfect march of lines relates to the patterns of color across the canvas. Simeone has described how each interval (that is, each long bar of color between lines) is like a painting unto itself. This connection raises questions about the borders of painting: why are we so comfortable with a square of cloth stretched over a wooden frame as the most common set of borders around interludes of aesthetic appreciation?

Color Lines
Simeone’s color is both the means by which pattern and interest are applied to the canvas and a technique for creating depth and pictorial effects. In Whites XI, 2002, bands of light and dark run at crosscurrents to the vertical lines. The colored bands too are lines but broad enough to be rivers flowing across the canvas. Unlike the smooth transitions within Rothko’s luminous swathes, where color itself is the ultimate formal concern, Simeone’s vertically stacked bands of color push and pull, like drawers, segments of the painting in relation to the viewer. Closer to color field painting are the light and dark patches in Yellow I, 2003, which have the subtle heaviness and stain of a cloudy sky.

The lines register formal spatial effects. The strips of exposed canvas are the literal ground of the painting acting as foreground, and they bar the surface of the picture by noting repeatedly its physical presence. Thus the viewer is not part of an extended, illusionistic spatial tableau: rather, shifts of depth and color are layered within the perceptual space of the canvas. In Clement Greenberg’s words, “fictive planes of depths meet as one upon the real and material plane which is the actual surface of the canvas”.

Simeone’s choice of materials and techniques are essential to the mood and effects of the paintings. The artist applies oils in multiple layers sufficient to obscure the dark ground and create a thick tactile surface that reflects light through submerged and surface layers.

Whites I, 2003, for example, has a luscious translucence in its outermost layers that shows a buttery softness of paint spread over paint. In terms of process, the choice of a colored ground is critical because the artist paints to obscure that ground except where the dark rows peek through. If the regularity breaks down and the line is covered there is no “going back”.

Shifts of Experience
The surfaces of the paintings are stained as if by rain–or the residue of emotion. They are a record of the anxiety of their own making. “I tuck creative disquiet in these images–muted notes of discordant color that alert the viewer’s literal and figurative peripheral vision,” writes Simeone, who explains that the shifts in color, the miniature handholds of paint dried in low relief, and the irregularities of line and other marks are a disquieting vocabulary where elements create formal tension and a sense of emotional unrest. “In Yellow I, 2003, the colors disrespect the lines. Irregularity, error, and clouding of the background are occurrences true to the turbulence in our everyday life”.

The paintings, where border areas are marked by omissions and accretions of color tugging at different axes, repeat elements not so much in the name of minimalist technique or perfect geometry but as a deep play of movement that poses questions both sensuous and formal. Do we see furrows from above or mountains from an angle? A hanging to mask a room or tiles in a courtyard seen from above? The series of paintings, with their colors intensifying from white to gray to tans and deep reds, elaborates the urgent emotions of distance and drawing near.

Sean Finney is a poet, journalist, and art critic. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.