24.07.20 – 21.08.20
Simon Stone is on the move again. Cardboard, whether in its soft corrugated or hard compressed form, is the wrapping we put around objects to lift them, stack them, and shift them from place to place. In his latest series Stone lifts off one side of the cardboard container, nails it down and paints over it, paints objects onto it worth saving in time’s irresistible great move forward.
Stone’s work has been solidified over a lifetime by a sensitivity to the real, practical things whose utility and banality conceal their aesthetic quality for people in a hurry. The kind of thing you could pack without a second glance, that you might miss but not miss to behold. Life’s furniture, the stuff we sometimes sit on or lug, but overlook. Stone slows one down to look again.
In the early 2010’s he wrapped this theme around itself in a series of Still Lifes of Boxes, empty things, ready to be filled once more, in anticipation of another disruptive move. Patina, the aesthetic sign of aging, is often savoured in oxidized metals and long-weathered walls but Stone found the handy good old cardboard box to be a subject of colourful, textured patination too, as sticky-tape, paint, labels and frayed edges accumulate records of transit.
For all that when Stone turns the cardboard box from subject to canvas there is nothing boxed-in about the paintings that emerge. The box becomes a window from here to there, from emptiness to the promise of desires fulfilled, or unfulfilled.
At times this is seductive, as in Floral Top, which renders a woman in lipstick, black fringe masking one eye, black stockings thigh-high, and the eponymous top, prone on a mattress that could be mangy, another three-D object that bears the marks of time and use. Above her are portals that give out onto fresh blue-sky vistas in different spaces. There is a plain gold ring on her finger, is this forbidden love?
Stone pulls off the lover’s trick of shrinking the entire world down to a bedroom chamber for a moment by keeping the irony alive – there is always an outside, always a context, something missing – no matter how still in poise the lover is always on the move, now closer, now further away.
Stone picks up on a different kind of exposed relation in 4 W, four women bathing in a play on the 19thcentury post-impressionist motif. The irony here is a lack of water(!), but there they are rinsing hair, scrubbing armpits, smiling in the daylight anyway. One seems to be masked with a white daub, giving the impression of that latent permission to move, but not too close now, as we get on with routines of physical and social ablution in a time of physical and social distancing. It is a jolly thing to look at, parsimonious portraiture that comes off rich and light.
Every piece deserves its own reckoning, but this critic will finish with a look at Grey Landscape, a painting within a painting on an old distressed box. The image suggests an abandoned flat, the wall now strewn with graffiti, after a hasty mover forgot this landscape amid tumult. There it stands still now, opening onto a distant horizon as bleak and cold as the desperate marks around it.
Here Stone not only recycles the box, but also the old idiom of gloomy landscape painting and the newer one of acid wall doodles, finding all three play a chord to that obverse inclination – not so much to move towards something but simply just to get away. And yet we cannot always move, the eye is fixed, attracted, drawn in by the desperate and the inhospitable. Stone reminds one that we do not just carry the shiny and sweet along, we use near-weightless materials to carry heavy stuff too.
Stone’s series of oils on cardboard are at once beguiling and frank, little and hefty. He gives sense to the old thought that a painting is just a flat, handy thing you can carry off so long as you’re prepared to take a world with you.
Text by Gabriel Crouse