Gary Simmons: Green Past Gold

London  13 September - 20 October 2018
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‘The chalkboard is a surface for learning and unlearning, teaching and unteaching, and thus a great object to work with because it plays such a powerful role in the way our formative memories are constructed’.

Simon Lee Gallery is pleased to present Green Past Gold, an exhibition of new work by Los Angeles-based artist, Gary Simmons. This is his fourth solo exhibition with the gallery.

Across his wide-ranging practice racial, social and cultural politics have been central themes and continue to occupy this recent series of the artist’s signature ‘erasure drawings’. Since the early stages of his career, Simmons has used the act of erasure as a means by which to interrogate racial identity and oppression in America. In these new monumentally-scaled works, he depicts the names of African-American actors of the silver screen alongside the titles of the silent films and early ‘talking pictures’ in which they starred. Towering over the viewer as though cinema screens themselves, each work is crafted over time with washes of grayscale pigment that evoke the wiped-clean slate of a blackboard. At centre stage, the oft-forgotten names of black screen actors are illuminated in glowing white paint, while the titles of the films recede into the background, smudged almost to oblivion. In works such as Hamtree (2018) – which shines a light on the long-forgotten vaudeville and burlesque performer, Hamtree Harrington – the atmospheric surface of the work is underlain with the ghostly outline of one of the racially-charged crow cartoon characters from Disney’s 1941 animation, Dumbo: a recurring motif in Simmons’ work. The haunting presence of the crow exposes racial stereotyping within the history of cinema, while drawing attention to its troubling position within our collective cultural memory and its role in the construction of contemporary America.

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