Neil & Heather Simone: art exhibition review

Neil Simone’s art is both extremely complex, and extremely accessible. Not only are his natural landscapes light, aesthetically pleasing and clear, but each one is imbued with meaning.

Gently curved trees enclose a secret garden; painted sand pours from a painted canvas onto a painted gallery floor; a wintry stream flows into the fold in a white cloth; windows look inwards to an outside space; seascapes seem folded and cut like paper, the corners lifted to reveal white nothingness beneath.

Neil Simone: Synthesis
Neil Simone: Synthesis

Many use trompe l’oeil techniques, with frames, easels, glass, and torn, cut or folded canvas being used to destabilise the medium itself.

They are dreamscapes, created in the artist’s mind and not necessarily representing real places – although hints of the purples and greys of the Scottish highlands and the bluish tints of the Lake District flavour some scenes.

But this is a sky which bleeds into curtains and windows, and these are lakes which pour over frames, through rooms. Looking at each painting in turn, the frames of different sizes seem to open upon mysterious worlds layered upon each other, as the viewer peers in like Alice in Wonderland at impossible places beyond.

It’s superficially attractive to try to detect specific influences, or to try to categorise Simone’s practice into an artistic school or movement. Magic realism comes the closest: there is much of Dali’s crystal clarity, and some thematic resemblance to Magritte’s ‘The Human Condition’ and ‘The Key to the Fields’, part of a series where that artist played with notions of windows and fictive canvases.

Simone, however, develops and deepens that trope throughout his oeuvre. He says, “I paint about the nature of painting. That is what interests me.” The paintings are explorations of surface and nature, windows into different seasons, rooms merging into forests, places and dimensions spilling into each other, the self-consciously two-dimensional medium of paint disturbing and undoing the illusory solidity of three-dimensional reality.

The exploration is really one of creativity itself, not just of painting. It is a stepping back from the creative act and a disjointed narrative of representation, a journey just as easily readable by a writer, sculptor, poet or composer as well as a painter.

Neil Simone explains, “I paint for myself. From the day I started doing that, instead of painting for other people, my life was transformed.” There is something rather extraordinary and wonderful about the way this artist articulates and deconstructs his own perception of the process of visual representation, and the extent to which this exhibition offers an insight into that process for the viewer.

The exhibition in Otley also includes paintings by Heather Simone, whose signature style comprises strikingly vivid and contrasted flowers and fruit – such as close-ups of stunning mauve aquilega and rich golden lilies against a contrasting black background.

The husband and wife painters complement each other’s styles and use each other as creative sounding boards, and the resulting contrast in their work is interesting, with Neil exploring the abstracted nature of reality and representation while Heather’s paintings luxuriate in the strong and assertive beauty of the forms and colours of natural objects.

Art review originally published on DigYorkshire in October 2013.

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