This month, Team Uncollective headed to Exeter Phoenix to check out a collection of new works by a St. Ives based artist who is finally putting a bit of spunk (in some cases almost literally) back into the once renowned scene. I last crossed paths with Simon in 2016, when he invited me (and fellow artist Maddie Broad) to join him in a performance of poems at Newlyn Gallery, including a timeless piece about ‘Terry Frost’s Nipples’. This, I hope, begins to set the scene if you were previously unaware of his oeuvre.
The new show takes its name from an essay by Mary Reufle on the subject of sincerity and irreverence. These two terms are fitting for Simon’s work, which seems steeped in further themes of conflict, often humorous; A truly post-modern practice leaping from traditional pottery (Fifty Slipware Plates) to contemporary neons (PAST-ORAL), urban sensibilities and rural identities. At this junction a comparison with Grayson Perry seems lazy but somewhat just. The plates are arguably Simon’s most ‘commercial’ work, at home in any upmarket Cornish gallery - but in fact some of the most subversive and ingenious of his creations. I hope that the artist takes as much delight as I did to see elderly couples appreciating the fine china work before realising that they are intricately and profusely decorated with symbols of spermatozoa - A piece of punk art born from the errant love child of Perry and Bernard Leach himself.
The subtle dismantling of traditional ideals continued throughout the show - Although the artist’s attention turned now to macho culture and beat poetry. His blacklight poems demonstrate Simon’s skill in conveying a lifetime of experiences and ideas in just a few words. Throughout the evening, there was a steady flow of bodies weaving between the text filled canvases - And with good reason. With lines such as “A phone from her hand like a seagull to chips”, viewers of all ages were intrigued, moved and sometimes confused with no discretion necessary. I couldn’t help but be reminded by the equally concise and warm writings of David Robilliard, these fragments of introvert thoughts made overwhelmingly public.
The pinnacle of the evening’s events lay in ‘Gabba Haiku’, however. Self-confessed ‘dance music enthusiast’ Simon invited the audience to witness his take on the traditional poetic form. In another seamless melding of eras, art forms and style; the mild-mannered artist became a 21st century beat poet for one night only. A flickering purple strobe transformed Bayliss into a Hacienda DJ, a queer Kerouac with a tongue in cheek style at odds with Exeter’s bubbling bourgeois. The homoerotic stanza of “...Underwear bulge, sideways glance, OMG” earned a well-deserved giggle from some audience members, but don’t be fooled - Some points of the performance reached an intersection of ecstasy and agony only matched by a 90s acid house rave. With his new video work still rolling, we were given a poignant context to the night - Kangaroos, steeped in a pinkish haze, amusing but somehow tragic and tender. There’s not many artists who could make a marsupial so engaging.
The inaugural collection of Simon's Artist Tea Towel company is currently on show at the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. He'll be appearing at this year’s Langaland Festival, and is currently preparing another solo exhibition for the South West Showcase in Autumn 2018.
Tom Stockley is the founder and creative director of We Are Uncollective. He currently lives in Bristol where he dabbles in spoken word, artist management, workshops and event organising. He’s the editor of Pint For A Piece and is always looking for more writers to feature.
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