Judy Simonian: Chronic Civilization
This article was a “Topical Pick from the Archives” in January 2011 to coincide with Simonian’s show at Edward Thorpe Gallery.
Janet Kurnatowski Gallery
205 Norman Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11222
November 18th – December 17, 2005
Judy Simonian, a painter based in New York, blended themes of architecture and confinement in a recent solo exhibition at Janet Kurnatowski Gallery. Entitled “Chronic Civilization,” her show of three large paintings and several watercolors encompassed such disparate interiors as a medieval dungeon cell, the cavernous interior of a nightclub, urban office spaces, and the bowed perspective of an arena.
Simonian’s intuitive working methods bring a spirited, romantic negligence to her paintings. On canvas, her process is one of accretion: surfaces are often built up with collaged paper. Almost nothing of the canvas itself remains. In “Deep Purple Space,” painterly pleasure in light and shadow create a claustrophobic ambiance. The imagery clambers over and under a dense brew of gestural painting, hand-cut stencils, and sneaker tread textures. Within the tubular perspective of “Pink Cell,” schematic marks for granite blocks are accented by splashes of red paint while a shaft of sunlight illuminates the chamber. It’s a boudoir fit for a heroine of the French Revolution. Gazing into “Pink Cell,” I suddenly realized that I was the absent but implied figure. I was standing in the heroine’s soiled silk mules.
Simonian’s loose wet on wet technique weds the unreliable authority of power to the unpredictable process of watercolor in her works on paper. Several of them suggested architectural interiors where strong light seeps in through bars and barriers. The paint’s liquidity creates an atmospheric background over which hard-edged forms appear. The barn-like environment of “6AM” featured horizontal burnt sienna strokes laid atop a reddish foreground, and recalled photographs of Jackson Pollock’s Long Island studio. In “Winter Garden,” arched indigo struts cage an upward, prisoner’s-eye view of the sky. The distemper of office environments was evoked in the wavering, single point perspective of a work entitled “Corporate Light.”
Simonian is very much an artist interested in the social role of art; she has created public art projects in New York during her long career. Yet, a sense of the almost sacred solitude of the artist at work pervades this suite of paintings. Artists from Fra Angelico to the French filmmaker Robert Bresson have grappled with the boundaries of the studio, the picture plane, the cinematic frame – their limits versus freedoms. Chronic Civilization alluded to such meditative thoughts, but also brought up a range of topical subjects such as surveillance and police power. In doing so, Simonian deftly balanced beauty against the citizen’s vulnerability – and the will to preserve freedom.