The work of Gary Simmons (b. 1964, New York, NY) explores racial, social and cultural politics, interrogating the ways in which we attempt to reconstruct the past via personal and collective memory. Central to his practice is the act of erasure. In his ‘erasure drawings’, the artist uses his hands to blur white chalk on pigmented panels or in situ wall installations, leaving a spectral residue that evokes a sense of loss while simultaneously conveying the power of memory. By expunging only fragments of images or text, the artist demonstrates the impossibility of eradicating racial and cultural stereotypes from our shared conscience. Inaugurated in the early 1990s, the series has expanded to include works on paper, painted canvas and murals, all of which mimic the effect of smudged chalk.
Mining the iconography of American popular culture, Simmons’ work often takes its subject from cartoons, films, pedagogical settings or musical sources that identify with the legacy of racial hierarchies. His early sculpture powerfully invoked symbols of racial oppression, including the white hoods and nooses associated with the Ku Klux Klan. The politics of racial identity are a principal focus of the artist’s practice; his work is fundamentally occupied by the unfixed nature of a past that remains open to the vagaries of memory, and its role in the construction of the character of contemporary America. He notes, ‘I am concerned with figuring absence, with negotiating between the static vocabulary of race, gender and class stereotype and the invisibility of the dimension of human history in the objects I create’.