Metro Pictures: Gary Simmons "Screaming Into The Ether"
Gary Simmons presents 20 new paintings in his signature “erasure technique” that stemmed from his early chalkboard drawings. The work expands the artist’s decades-long examination into the propagation of racial stereotypes through American media and its devastating effects on how people of color perceive themselves and are perceived by others. His figures are based on the Looney Tunes characters Bosko, his girlfriend Honey, and Bosko’s “Little Sister.” Introduced in 1930, the three characters were degrading caricatures of black Americans that were based heavily on minstrelsy.
Simmons employs a rich gray palette in the backgrounds of his new canvases for the first time, recalling dusty blackboards or a flickering black-and-white film. He uses his hands to blur the images and backgrounds of his paintings by wiping away only pieces of them. In doing so he demonstrates the persistence of racial stereotypes and how deeply embedded they are in our memories. By moving his hands through the charcoal, pastel, wax, or paint, the static characters begin to vibrate with a frantic energy on the canvas. These latest paintings tie together some of Simmons’s earliest and most recent experiments with the method. He states, “When you’re young, you kind of bounce from thing to thing and you never totally get done. I was working on some film-based stuff and thought, ‘I don’t think I’m done with these cartoons yet.' They’ve always been attached to me, so I started to sheepishly bring them back, little by little. Now they’re fully back, and it’s like being with an old friend.”
Gary Simmons was born in 1964 in New York and lives and works in Los Angeles. He has had numerous solo exhibitions including ones at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Bohen Foundation, New York and the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C. His work was included in the influential exhibition Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art at the Whitney Museum, New York, in 1994. He has also been included in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art among others.