Simon Stone

view available works

The work of some artists lends itself to the most fluid of critical conversations. It's almost as though every paint stroke and compositional angle has been so artfully preconceived, every material component so intricately choreographed and self-consciously conceptualised in terms of its inter-textuality and multiple references that to "not get it" is to admit to the most contemptible form of visual illiteracy and cultural philistinism. Simon Stone's work is not one of these. Coherent exegesis is not his strong suit and efforts at critical responses sometimes seem tantamount to imposing a linguistic grid on a dialect that defies verbiage. His is not an art that speaks for itself. It speaks to itself in codes that are as inchoate as they are arcane.

There is something undeniably compulsive and singularly "other" not only about his persona but his paintings. And this statement is in itself, paradoxical, because Stone's images are instantly, sometimes mundanely familiar. It is of the cigarette stub, street sign, beer can and boiled egg variety. They are the sights we glimpse through the rear-view mirror, through a partially closed curtain, or in a cluttered storeroom: a receding landscape, a clothes hanger, the delicate outline of a naked woman - coquettish, raw and erotic... rational figurative forms, rendered in entirely irrational spaces with a sense of startling, bizarre beauty, painted in variously muddy or glorious hues, sometimes as though by different hands... Whether its the thousands of sketches he has painted, on virtually a daily basis over the last 20 years or his insatiable lust for collecting fishing sinkers and imbuing them with jewel-like luminescence on canvas, they are the fragmented incarnations of an obsessive, unashamedly unholistic consciousness.

Stone was always a bit of an anomaly. In an era of anti-aestheticism, and self-conscious subversiveness, his work was unashamedly traditional, with a twist. In many ways it was the antithesis of the monumental baroque competition pieces produced in the mid 80s to early 90s, before assemblages and installations began to dominate the gallery space. Variously austere and delicate, his paintings revelled in an exploration of colour, form and composition - an anathema within the context of post-modern South Africa. Yet Stone's carrying membership of the art world's elite was never in question.

A graduate with distinction from Michaelis in 1976, Stone has already exhibited widely, alongside Gail Caitlin, Robert Weinek, Braam Kruger, William Kentridge and other luminaries of South African contemporary art.  Although he has been hailed as one of South Africa's finest painters, relatively few critiques - compared to the texts devoted to his peers - have been written on his work. This may be attributed partly to the fact that he exhibits infrequently; but, more beguilingly, the paucity of written documentation may have equally as much to do with the reasons to which I have alluded above: Stone's work, although accessible, does not lend itself to tidy exegesis. In her 1992 review of his solo exhibition at the then recently inaugurated ERC Anthea Bristowe perceptively described his streetscapes as "fragments of reality that run through his work like arteries." I subsequently interpreted his imagery, not as streetscapes but, rather, escapes... 

Text taken from "Stone Caves" article by Hazel Friedman