Reviews

July 2017 Vaedhur

Solo Exhibition at Gallerie de Bellefeuille

1367 Avenue Green, Montreal, Canada

 

Link to Lee Sharrock review

 

Vore - noon 2017

oil on canvas, 122 x 137

March 12th

Opening of the Reminiscense Exhibition

 Darren Baker Gallery 81 Charlotte Street, London W1T 4PP

Guido Romero Pierini and Associate Remanence join with Darren Baker Gallery to present “Reminiscences”, a new exhibition of artists united by their exploration of the fundamentals of painting, through its early myths and histories. This reflects back to the beginning of the history of figurative painting and acts as a frame for these artists’ works, each displaying their own original forms of reminiscence.

The artists of the “Reminiscencess” exhibition therefore question the paradoxes of appearance and disappearance and how it may be constituted in the act of painting. Julien Spianti and Simon Casson drive this point home, showing how painting, unlike photography is the par excellence to amalgamate reality and represent the intransigence of memory

 

Julien Verhaeghe, Art critic

Learning at the feet of ones elders

with Simon Casson by Holly Manvell

May/June

 

Article published by Francolin Press.

Established in 2012, francolin press engages with painters, sculptors and creators from all over the world.

The  article is based on letter correspondence and a conversation with Simon Casson with Holly Manvell Founding editor of Francolin press. To access the article visit www.francolinpress.co.uk or press on the link opposite.

 

 

October 2012 The Spectator

 

Neglected master

Extraction from the main article page 54 by Andrew Lambirth.

 

At Long & Ryle, Somerset dialect and folk culture infuse Simon Casson's more usual classical imagery. Casson (born 1965) is a master of the baroque fantasy, uniting the fruit or flower still like and allegorical portraiture of Old Master paintings with the squeegee surface gestures of Gerhard Richter

 This imagery remains his staple, with landscape, drapery, rabbit masks and roses all playing prominent roles here, but his interpretation has developed new depths. The paint-handling has become less mechanical and more painterly, the squeegee giving way to the hand gesture, with a variety of brush and finger marks, dribbles and gestural freedom. The overlaid marks interrupt and contradict the fragmentary found images, but somehow the unity of the painting holds. Impressive.

October 2012 Somerset Life

 

Sarah Ford meets the internationally acclaimed Simon Casson, the Artist in Residence at Forde Abbey.

 

 

His work is owned by royalty and Hollywood stars and his paintings hang in locations around the world, but until now Simon Casson has never exhibited in the county which is now his home. As Artist in Residence for 2012 - 2013 at the glorious Forde Abbey near Chard, Simon has embraced the West Country dialect, legends and myths for a constantly changing exhibition of paintings and drawings. As Artist in Residence for 2012 - 2013 at the glorious Forde Abbey near Chard, Simon has embraced the West Country dialect, legends and myths for a constantly changing exhibition of paintings and drawings. As Artist in Residence for 2012 - 2013 at the glorious Forde Abbey near Chard, Simon has embraced the West Country dialect, legends and myths for a constantly changing exhibition of paintings and drawings.

 

As Artist in Residence for 2012 - 2013 at the glorious Forde Abbey near Chard, Simon has embraced the West Country dialect, legends and myths for a constantly changing exhibition of paintings and drawings. Taking its title from the old words for smoke and rain, Smeech and Hrain is an exhibition full of mysterious phrases and expressions, hinting at tales once told in the old apple orchards where Simon is based. With their references to farming and the landscape, old superstitions and the abbey itself, the paintings take their poetic names from Somerset words which have disappeared in the mists of time: Timmersome (restless), Vayer (summer fayre), Quistie (wood pigeon), Rathe (early ripened).

Simon is known for his fascination with the universal language of the classical world which he deconstructs in his paintings. Those references are still there in Smeech and Hrain but the work has a locality as seen through the eyes of someone who is not a native. Born in 1965, Simon was raised in Zambia until he was 16; he then moved to Cumbria before his family moved to Somerset. While he was at the Royal Academy in London Simon met his wife Sheridan, who was studying at the Slade. The couple now live in Crewkerne with their three daughters, a Dalmatian called Marley and a flock of chickens. Their 180 year old home was originally built for a tea merchant's daughter, and its period features include an old coach house. This is Simon's studio, to where he heads each day before breakfast.

"First thing in the morning you can look at a painting with fresh eyes," he explains. I'll then work through the day, maybe creating a natural break where I will do some research. It's almost like being a naturalist, collecting material and bringing it back to the studio". "There's that sense of discovery when you go for a walk and see something. If I find a crumbling building I will come back and take a look at how Turner, John Martin or Claude Lorrain would have tackled it.

"I almost want to create the ideal of what I want Somerset to be like." adds Simon, who says that the old knotty, mossy apple trees in Somerset fascinate him the most.

"I think Simon's perfect environment is at the back of Perrott with the old gnarled cider trees and the wassailing around the old apple orchards." adds Sheridan, who wouldn't let Simon burn apple wood on the fire when they lost one of their trees. "One of my old books told me it was very unlucky and I thought, I'm just not going to risk it!"

 

Simon and Sheridan turned to an old book on Somerset dialect written by Frederick Thomas Elworthy for the titles in Smeech and Hrain. And they believe the Somerset words may be familiar to some older visitors to the exhibition. "I did try out some of the dialect when I was playing cricket recently", says Simon. "I asked someone if the words speech and train rang a bell and straight away he said 'smoke and rain'.

 

Simon, who has won several awards for his art, tends to work on a collection of paintings at the same time and these then evolve together as a group. "People ask me how long a painting takes, well it's not a linear production from start to finish", he says." I like to leave them alone for a bit - give them space - and come back to them."

Preferring the flexibility of oil, Simon's paintings are often large scale productions. A 5 metre by 3 metre commission for the Lanesborough Hotel involved shutting Hyde Park corner in the middle of the night so that the lorry could deliver it.  His work can also be found at Barclays Bank HQ, the Bank of America, Shell UK, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and many other public and private collections. The Hollywood star Ted Danson has one hanging in his bedroom while HRH The Prince of Wales owns two small figurative pieces.

 

Forde Abbey, with his impressive monastic and state rooms, is a fitting location for his current work. "I was very conscious of the fact that people are living here," says Simon, who is inspired by the surrounding landscape and Forde Abbey's fantastic sense of history. Primarily I will be working when the house shuts to the public but the gardens will be open and you will probably see me outside either drawing, taking photographs or maybe doing some kind of quick sketches in the grounds."

Sheridan is pleased to know that local people will finally be able to discover her husband's work. "The wonderful family at the Abbey embrace contemporary art with open arms. This is the first time that Simon's ever shown any where near where we live. before this people had to travel to London to see his work. It's lovely to have it close by."

 

The house at Forde Abbey (TA20 4LU) is open until 31 October; the gardens are open throughout the year. The gift shop and tearoom opens Thursday - Sunday until 9 December 01460 220231.

 

Sarah Ford Somerset Life November 2012 ©

July 2010

 

“Lupercalia and Modern Mythology”

 

Introductory text to accompany Lupercalia exhibition at Galerie de Bellefeuille, Montreal.

 

Reality can be a harsh bedfellow, the sense of the here and now, the known, discovered and the hard won, perhaps unwanted truth. The world becomes smaller and all accessible, at a touch of plastic, knowledge is with us. Religion is in this present century, as in centuries past a fighting Warlord. Countries lost, lives scattered over doctrine and tomes. News is second by second, conveyed by phone - we live it alongside the witnesses on the scene, step by step, bombarded by the minutiae.

 

Hardly startling that there appears to be a great yearning for a Modern Mythology. Something mysterious, irrational, unexplained, from another place, touching our darkest fears and latent sexuality. Something layered beneath. The modern zeitgeist is one of vampires, werewolves and ghostly vapid forms. We surround ourselves with an otherworldly stratum of the night. In the inky dark, wolves run through lush ferny forests, before transforming into creatures of human flesh. Vampires parade of an evening, through unsuspecting small American towns, haunting mortals with their pallid perfection in backstreet bars. Adoration is formed mortal to immortal.

Through this all runs a current from the Ancient World. There a civilisations text relished an empire where monsters roamed freely alongside man. Fatalism rules, and the fable is fully formed. In Simon Casson’s exhibition entitled “Lupercalia” the festival of ancient Rome is played out upon the canvas. Lupercalia, the mother of the modern Valentine’s Day celebration sees golden youths of the Luperci run naked through the streets, displaying their masculine prowess, whipping the upturned palms of the women with strips of freshly slaughtered goatskin, rendering them both fertile and safe from the horrors of a disastrous childbirth. Purification through flagellation. Entwined as the myth is with the very birth of Rome itself through the attempted murder of the twins Romulus and Remus and their suckling and salvation from the she-wolf Lupa - the wolf is both the sacred and profane, the saviour and aggressor.

 

Sacrificial feasts are gorged in the twilight, wine supped from the cornucopia, the sound of leather thongs stinging reddened skin an imagined noise. Bared backs in a symbolic penetration. Skin is smeared with blood and milk.  Antlers and horns drawn onto the canvas in dragged paint scrawl across narrative. Ribbons of colour tether layers of paint, drawing us

a relationship between beast and hominine. The identity of the individual is screened, allowing a timeless unidentifiable fluidity.

 

Casson’s paintings evoke a cannonade of emotions, endemic to consternation. Anxiety peaks and troughs with flight or flight within the fragmented composition. Paint in it’s purest form, untainted by digital trickery wreaths it’s way around fur and flesh, touching over-ripened fruit and the suggestive folds of drapery. Volatile swirls of pigment form welts across tempest heavy skies, whilst predators crouch low, preparing to attack. Beauty rules as queen over convention, and the academic formation of the painting is belied by it’s almost chaotic energy. Nothing compares with the splendour of the physical application of the paint itself, no reproduction can convey the gentle sensuous brush strokes, contrasted to the rough frenetic finger printed bedaub.

 

Deer turn in mid-flight to avoid collision, wolves lie sated alongside a bewilderingly beautiful figure or leap towards an unknown prey - caught in a moment with legs outstretched and fur tangible. Forests can be glimpsed through crashes of abstraction, colour obscuring ritualistic clearings. Numitor’s daughter Ilia flees the raging wolf pursuing her in the sacred grove, only

 to fall into the arms of Mars to be ravished in the midst of the storm clouds, signalling the collapse of her world with a divine conception, the prophecy fulfilled.

 

Sheridan Casson 2010 ©

 

September 2009

Exhibition review Between past and Present

 

Simon Casson uncaged for an orgy of the collectable by Jay Merrick. The Independent.

 

 

Holed up in his Somerset manse, the artist Simon Casson has become as mythic as his paintings, described by the trendy New York interior designer Adam Tihany as "the Renaissance on LSD". Casson is one of the most highly skilled painters of his generation, yet the sheer lushness of his punk-baroque imagery has made him a victim of the usual British-suspicion of virtuosity. Thus, he has tended to be collected by the great and the corporate, such as the Prince of Wales and the Bank of America Trust.

 

 

Casson's latest show, Between Past and Present, has just opened at London's Frost & Reed Gallery. Can his vivid old-school skills, honed at the Royal Academy Schools, break the surly bonds of the artistic autism and banal irony that has dominated the scene for

 two lucrative A-listed decades? Casson's obsession with the mysterious depiction of beauty might seem, to some, as absurd as the recent sight of Damien Hirst and Jay Jopling being transported, in a pristine golf-buggy, all of 300 metres from the new Museum of Islamic Art in Doha to their limo pick-up point.

 

 

"Is it passe to make a glorious image?" asks Casson. "Art today is offered as a shot in the arm, a one-hit image, tequila, instant like an advert.." His paintings are broken narratives, "fragmenting, shielding and obscuring causing one to peek through layers and portals to another lining, another existence."

 

Casson's new series of paintings are exquisitely occult cut-ups based on the orgiastic Thesmorphoria festivals of ancient Greece, and they give us a new twist on Paul Mee's remark that art does not reproduce what is visible, but makes things visible. Carson's quest for "a feral atmosphere of abandonment" may never quite escape the formalities  of the history of painting, but the tensions of his crumple-zones of breasts, smears, and fabric create remarkable realms of fractured sensuality.

 

The Independent - Observations Jay Merrick 2009 ©

 

12 September 2009

Exhibition review Between past and Present in The Spectator by Andrew Lambirth.

 

Hidden Treasure

 

At Frost & Reed, 2-4 King Street, St James's, SW1 (until 30 September), is an exhibition of new paintings by Simon Casson (born 1965).

 Entitled Between Past and Present, The Thesmophoria Revealed, it is a show of luscious oils that takes figurative mythological painting to new and intriguing heights.

 

Casson is that rare beast, a painter who can command the skills more common to the ateliers of three centuries ago than to today, who yet disrupts his own facility in order to make an image relevant to contemporary society. He unveils a new History Painting, founded on the iconography of the past yet reinterpreted in terms of modern disaffection and confusion, which he somehow manages to make beautiful.

 

The artist himself admits to the 'feral atmosphere of abandonment' he summons up, but the extremes of sensual beauty are not left unchecked. These paintings are far more complicated than simple statements of hedonism. Casson interrupts his visual pleasures with surface intrusions resembling torn paper or skid marks, or he collages other images over his lushly painted fruit and flesh. The Old Mastery subjects are rarely straightforward. The new mixture is altogether more disturbing and emotionally challenging than a simple indulgence in the senses. Casson makes you think and question. Whether the focus of your questioning is pictorial conventions or moral values, both are intimately concerned with the making of good art.

 

The Spectator - Hidden Treasure by Andrew Lambirth 2009 ©

September 2009

Exhibition review in Galleries by Nicholas Usherwood

 

Top of the painting hierarchy in the 18th C. Britain, history painting has suffered a more or less radical decline into oblivion ever since. The Glasgow Painters of the 80s, Campbell et al, did something to turn genre around and, over the last decade or so, the young English artist Simon Casson has been attempting something no less ambitious. His massive, complex canvases, rich with mythological reference and gorgeous in colour, on show at the now very go-ahead Frost & Reed gallery art works of extraordinary technical prowess and exuberant high spirits.

 

Galleries 2009 Nicholas Usherwood ©

September 2008

 

Exhibition review in Shanghai Talk at Contrast Gallery by Ann Brodie

 

I have to admit that for a large portion of my interview with British artist Simon Casson. I'm completely baffled. He rattles off endless lists of obscure artists - expected  and even more obscure mathematical theories - unexpected - that apparently influence the design and layout of his paintings. "I just picked up on these things when I was studying...you build up a vocabulary of what’s around you, what you hear and see," Casson says.

I don't see it, let alone understand it. But maybe that's because my eyes are drawn to the voluptuous, Rubens-esque sirens that frolic naked in Casson's paintings, rather than the underlying mathematical symmetry of the canvas. Is this wrong ? Casson laughs. "You know, its like watching an Italian opera. Even though you might not understand what they're saying, you do still get the overall story."

The "story" behind Casson's 11 newest works - together known as "The Great Daedala" - is hard to decipher, even if you are multilingual. Casson tells me that this is because I'm thinking too hard.

 

But five minutes into the conversation with Casson, it becomes evident that he's the one who's been thinking too much. He's not just a talented artist, but an amazing mind as well. Aside from the mathematical algorithms, his paintings are alive with tales and fables of history. He's well versed in the lives and times of king and queens of yesteryear, and also has a tale or two to tell about the modern art scene as it's progressed in recent years.

 

Interestingly, Casson's Daedala series is almost like a quilting of his knowledge - a patch of history there, a splash of Renaissance there, all overlaid with a hint of modernity. "The series is certainly about reconciliation", he says."It's multi-layered. The images are not used in a classical sense, but rather, are iconic. They're just bits and pieces." he dismisses modestly.

 

Bits and pieces.

 

But then, as I take in all the paintings, I start to see what Casson is on about. Together, the collection somewhat resembles a jigsaw that’s been thrown on the floor - some parts overlapping where they shouldn't, but others falling into place, perhaps purely by chance. But none of the juxtapositions are overt." I don't want to tell people what to see. I just want t allude to things", he say. "it's unnecessary to give the full picture all the time".

In one particular painting. "the Great Daedala II", a plump bosomed beauty stands windswept in the night. Her body may be on display, but her face is boldly blotted out by a striking flourish of white paint that appears almost as a rip in the canvas. Another goddess reclines on a velvet sofa, dress inching up her thighs. Is she smiling? "who knows?" says Casson. "She's a tart, but it's not really overt. It's not advertised like on a billboard. I didn't want the images to appeal to that peeping Tom, striptease mentality. I wanted the paintings to work well as an abstract. If I put in the faces, people would objectify the women, and focus on their eyes. Then it becomes a portrait, and it's not an abstract any more."

 

Incredibly, Casson painted the 11 Daedala works over the space of a year, many of them on-the- go at the same time. "I don't operate in a linear fashion. You know, it's a bit like sampling in music. You hear a tune that has references to the past, or a sample of an old song, and it's remixed to create something new. Thats what I do on canvas. I add little samples when I feel the need".

“The shapes are not randomized, which means that there's not total harmony in the painting. You've got to have something ugly within the beauty to make it extraordinary."

 

Shanghai Talk Ann Brodie 2008 ©

Memphis March 2005

Exhibition Review  Lisa Kurts Gallery by Fredric Koeppel

 

Virginia Woolf said that the world changed in 1910, and give or take a few years, she was right. The decade that encompassed World War I saw the sowing of the  seeds of scientific uncertainty, the development of motion picture technique and the beginning of the blurring of popular and fine arts. Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" made disharmony and jagged rhythms in serious music fashionable, while authors like Woolf and James Joyce brought stream-of-consciousness to fiction. And (at least partly) the art movements of Cubism, Dada and Futurism occurred.

 

All this cacophony and fragmentation and brave anti-bourgeois squaring off leads directly — ta-dah! — to the 12 paintings of Simon Casson on display at Lisa Kurts Gallery through March 30.

 

All right, we missed a few decades there — the '60s, the '70s, the '80s, the '90s — but Casson's work partakes of late 20th Century judgement too, particularly in the submerging of the avant-garde into advertising, the atomization of sensibility and the subversion of the sublime by irony.

 

Born in 1965, Casson is a British artist who received advanced instruction at the London Institute and the Royal Academy of Arts.

 

He paints like a dream he is painting dreams — and you could, eat the luscious surface of his pictures with a spoon; one feels that there's nothing Casson could not do with a brush.

 

His method is to intervene in typical mythological pictures from the High Renaissance and Mannerist eras, about 1475 to 1580, with strips and blocks of energetic abstraction, thus imposing irrationality upon reason and a sense of dissatisfaction, disrespect and parody on the scenes. It's de Kooning, one master, defacing Leonardo another master; it's Basquiat, the chic and tragic imp, laying graffiti over Bellini.

 

Casson also fragments his canvases into seemingly unrelated blocks of narrative, inserts irregular panels of cloudy blue skies or jagged white emptiness across the pictures, blurs edges and outlines, as if images were speeding by with the flicker of film, that symbol of modernism's impatience. It's as if the artist were saying, Who needs this junk?" and detonating the dusty attic of Europe's disastrous history.

 

When Titian  and other artists of the High Renaissance painted scenes from Classical myth, they were paying homage to a glorious though calcifying tradition, flattering their patrons and exercising their talents at depicting narrative and movement and the sheen of light on satin and velvet. It took a Titian or a 'Tintoretto to invest such storybook scenes with human majesty and vulnerability, while second- and third-rate artists churned these things out with the speed and character of assembly lines ("Another 'Orpheus and Eurydice' comin' up!') for minor nobility that couldn't afford Titian. The dim, stained remnants fill antique stores — and, alas museums —around the world.

 

In other words, these scenes of Classical gods and goddesses behaving badly or sadly ported fabled lands no one believed in except symbolically, kingdoms and heavens colluding at the borders of talent and commerce as art does today. When heroism and beauty are cliches, why bother to mock them with another cliche? Casson could paint a bottle of mandarin orange vodka or fit Aphrodite out with a pair of new Manolo Blahnik shoes, and his pictures would fit right into the glossy pages of Vogue or W. And why not?

 

"This is tremendously ambitious work, in many ways wholly admirable. One is reminded, in spirit, of Julian Schnabel's grandiose painting-assemblages on broken crockery of the late 1970s and early 1980s, heroic exercises in ego and expressionism, or of German artist Gerhard Richter, the greatest painter of the second half of the 20th Century, whose equal and incredible facility at realism, expressionism and abstraction are awe-inspiring yet leave one with a sense of disquiet. Shouldn't these methods require a commitment from the artist?

 

The violation of a sanctuary, like rape in the Hundred-Acre Wood, should seem an act of supreme desecration. For all their brio and brilliance, their agility and high coloring, their seductive surfaces and downright self-conscious handsomeness, Casson's, pictures don't convey the giddy sense of blasphemy that comes from thumbing one's, nose at the gods or the Old Masters, gods and Old Masters these days being merely additional entries in the encyclopedia of popular culture. To be a Bad Boy, you have to he badder than this.

 

Commercialappeal Fredric Koeppel 2005  ©

December 13th 2003

Review if exhibition at Long and Ryle by Andrew lambirth The Spectator

 

Down in Pimlico at Long & Ryle, 4 John Islip Street, SWI (020 7834 1434), is a solo show by the prodigiously gifted Simon Casson (born 1965). I must at once declare an interest here, for I have been following Casson's development for some years, and have written the catalogue essay for this excellent show. Casson paints like an Old Master, but then disrupts the beauty of naked figure or still-life with blanks or smears or over-painting. Yet the pictures work, in a thoroughly contemporary way. Go and see it before 18 December,

when the show closes. Prices: up to £12,000.

December 2003

Review of exhibition at Long and Ryle by Lucinda Bredin The Week

 

 

Simon Casson (b. 1965), who has had solo exhibitions in Holland, the US and Britain since 1996,paints pictures that are patch works of tantalisingly

not-quite recognisable fragments of Old Master paintings.

Bits of drapery, figures and still-life are "collaged" together with occasional strips of blank canvas and smears of paint, rendering the image momentarily out' of focus or blurred by speed. There are also passages of non-descriptive bravura brushwork, suggesting stormy skies or landscape, which take the eye back into space for a breather from the voluptuous surface. Titles from classical mythology – such as Pelias's Journey – add a slightly mere dignity and depth; but for all the fashionable ambiguity, these paintings with their rich colours and surfaces, virtuoso paint-handling, and scale, have something of the presence of the Old Masters they so deftly plunder.

2002

The Royal Academy Magazine/Number 74/Spring

 

Exhibition review at Long and Ryle

 

The manipulation of the Classics is afoot at Long & Ryle where ex-RA Schools student Simon Casson provides a luxurious and multi-layered world of passion and desire in his dramatic compositions. Taking the story of  'The Vengeance of Orestes' (the soap opera that was post-Trojan Argos), he creates paintings that are large and vivid, rich in colour, content and confidence. They present a visual Mend of coherence and chaos, myth and reality. The images are challenging and deeply layered with ideas and influences. These paintings area disconcerting combination of expressionism and high art yet in the flesh they blend seemlessly into truly voluptuous canvases. They are, like their subjects, deeply engrossing. 'Simon Casson' runs until 6 April.

2000

 

Exhibition review at Long and Ryle by Jay Merrick The Independent

 

Simon Casson is a gifted painter who finds himself, in his early 30s, at the crossroads of innovation and success that has made much of a sensually schizoid worm in the bud. His large canvases have the look of vandalised, paint-smeared Titian. The skin, the fruit, the velvet, are perfectly achieved; so too are the smears and squibs and gossamers of graffiti. The images, veil upon veil of them, are the neo-baroque equivalent of distorted chords.

 

And so Casson finds his work selling fast because collector's are attracted to his meticulous combinations of classical high art and wild-thingery. Since leaving behind fully abstracted canvases at the Royal Academy Schools in 1994, Casson has become a different sort of prodigy. At first glance it is irresistibly tempting to tag him as the Nigel Kennedy of the fine art world - febrile, tousled, hungry-looking, a geezer-manque who probably wants to solo like Hendrix and talk Estuary.

 

The collection at London's Long & Ryle gallery is called Tantalus, and the title is apt, since Casson finds himself between the rock of his technique and a soft place. There's no doubt that he could sell this kind of work on a highly profitable production-line basis if he had a mind to. But its voluptuous facility should not be mistaken for complacency - not yet, anyway. There's a great deal going on in this work, even if the overall effect - despite the painterly equivalent of bent notes and reverb - is at times almost too agreeable.

 

On the other hand, why not? In his increasingly delicate and wide-ranging experiments - he takes collage ideas from billboards, broken tiles, animals, Piero dells Francesca's John the Baptist - Casson's approach remains rooted in checks and balances of colour that are complex, but which ensure that the layering of coherence and incoherence get equal weight.

Apparently random squibs and brusque scrapes of chrome and a chill yellow - rather a trademark - are nothing of the kind; none of the abstractions are. They have been carefully related to the painting behind the painting - the classical ground lifted from lesser-known painters ferreted out of Sotheby's catalogues. And we never quite see the model's head; a bit of flesh and, in The Omission of Admetus, folds of robe as densely red and whorled as a half-opened rosebud.

 

One well-known critic has referred to the striptease aspect of Casson's work. This is indisputable in a literal sense - the basic imagery is ostensibly tantalising. Yet it carries almost no erotic vibration ; sexual voltage is hard to generate without eyes or lips to ignite the rhythms of the body - unless there's a painterly despot at work.

 

But there probably isn't. The paint is too lovingly worked and - in the case of the abstractions - reworked to give 3-D effects. The delicacy and vitreous luminosity of these improvisations also come from the fast-lane: Casson cartoons the basic forms in white on a dark background, then wings it. He dislikes over-painting, and the high finish seems effortless.

 

And so viewers find themselves in mysterious realms of erasure and illumination. Some of the gauzier, vaseline-like smears seem to overlie unknown second or third images. It's not a case of toffy withheld from Peeping Toms; just that the other sensualities are, finally, more intriguing.

 

Casson hag described himself as "a quasi-divine creator, perhaps". Surely not. He is, rather, a shrewd cut-purse in the house of legend and esoterica. In his 1998 exhibition, The Eldest of the Fates, the images in the catalogue were accompanied by choice cuts of text highlighting the artist's well-springs: de Sade on sensual imperatives, Angela Carter on masques of alienation and abstraction, Alina Reyes on voids and the need to disguise the world in order to bear and transform it.

 

Whether painted by a closet deity or not, Casson -who sometimes uses Photoshop software to jigsaw potential settings -leaves us with vibrant colour, ambiguity and a fresh take on painterly editing. The abstractions are like jump-cuts or the blown-up harmonics of small areas of the base images. The not quite random blocks and smears are even likely to carry shadows that fall on the classical scene, making them punish; smears as deconstructed cloaks and draperies, the classical wrenched into chaotic Greenwich Dome Time. There is, though, one odd thing about the paintings: despite their apparent vivacities, clashes and layering’s, they seem almost impossibly still. It seems that mayhem maketh manners.

 

In Hippodameia and the Heraen Games, it is as if the central female figure - cloaked, full-breasted, headless - sits behind sheet glass on which abstractions have been splurged. But the "mess" is perfectly balanced and the eye shies away from preferences. In Chlorin at the Plerian Spring, the zones of abstraction are connected by an over-heavy left arm and the opposing diagonal formed by the figure's pale dam- son-coloured wrap. This formality is utterly still behind the outer collage of colours and textures. Tantalus and Eurynassa combines violent disorder with petrified colours, notably in a deep violet ribbon that Casson must surely have razored out of the drape in Ruben's Samson and Delilah.

 

His most delicately seductive touches are found in the still life, The Banquet at Mount Sipylus. Here we have gossamer overlays that vary in texture from frosted glass to Sellotape, and this luminosity and liquid physicality surfaces again, and most brilliantly, in the greyish blue squiggle-zones in Niobe and the Love of the Twelve.

 

All very tantalising and mysterious. Odd, though, that one finds oneself thinking of the female figure - it's always the same model - and imagining her perspective. Perhaps hers is the most revealing vista: the headless stranger in rumpled shirt and spattered jeans intent on painting out her view of Casson's studio, the Rothko card pinned to the wall, and the Somerset garden beyond, where a dalmatian lies alongside a sleeping child; the two-way mirror.

 

Casson's commercial trajectory is assured, his skill and scale is proven. One wonders, though, where he can go from such a secured position. Will his work be caught in a nuff-said vice? Will he choose to become, a la Nige, just plain Casson and paint perfectly blurred visions of Odysseus' Riders on the Storm? Or is something more radical on the way? Maybe the faceless model knows something we don't. She, after all, is the one looking through the glass, abstractedly.

1998

 

Invited Artist Eye at Arts Review with reference to the Eldest of the Fates exhibition. Long and Ryle London.

 

The Eldest of the Fates is the title painting of my next one-man exhibition in London, part of which then travels on to Holland. The painting had to be completed over the summer months, as although it is partly sourced from a reproduction of a lesser-known work found in an old Christie's sale catalogue, it also involved prolonged stints working from the model, and even with a brand new heating system, the studio gets way too cold for bare flesh come autumn.

My first experience of European art was at the National Gallery whilst on holiday from my then home in Zambia. I was seduced, particularly by the Old Masters' mythology paintings hanging high above me depicting the antics of the Greek gods and goddesses, with their influence over us mere mortals. By using Greek mythology as their subject matter, they avoided charged, constrictive, biblical imagery. As in works such as Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne, myths allowed the freedom of the inclusion of fantasy, in Titian's case in the form of a pair of leopards. Painters need not be so concerned by the rules of the biblical subject, the colour of a cloak etc., enabling them to be much more inventive. Twenty years later my paintings are immersed in those same timeless themes. Here is Atropos, the eldest of the three fates, said to be the smallest yet most terrible. She lies turned towards the viewer like a Boucher nude. Her two sisters spin the thread of life, measuring that life by a rod, at which point Atropos, if she so desires, can snip the life thread with her deadly shears. Beauty seemed entwined with power, and in turn fear.

 

My work is embroiled in pure abstraction and figuration, and perhaps I'm trying to find the Holy Grail by attempting to marry the two within my paintings. The slab of palest pink textured paint veiling the identity of the female in this painting is of equal importance to me as her cold, blue tinged flesh, or the doves frolicking at her side. The language of paint is what excites me. It is amazing to be able to look back over the history of oil painting, via the gallery, museum or catalogue, then to exploit any brushstroke or passage of paint found there.

 

This work was completed within a few weeks. I would love the luxury to "do a de Kooning", by which I mean spend months, even years working on a single painting, layer upon layer of paint, but practicality prevails in my studio at present and I am on a tight schedule to produce the works for my up-coming exhibitions. Really the only reason that I get excited by the sale of my paintings is that money buys me time, and time is my greatest luxury.

 

Arts Review Simon Casson ©

1996

 

Exhibition review by Ian Gail at The Week

 

 

Simon Casson's paintings cross a cultural divide, uniting figurative art with the severity of abstract modernism. Casson, currently enjoying his first solo London exhibition, trained at the Royal Academy.

 

Using a muted palette evocative of 17th-century masters, he creates monumental paintings, in which half-draped neoclassical, Baroque figures - Venus, Danae, Circe and Penelope - materialise from an arrangement of blocks of colour worthy of Sean Scully. It is as if the history of 200 years of art has been condensed into a single canvas. The figures are almost all female - the images remarkably sensual , both in content and in execution.

 

 

The somewhat subliminal impact of Casson's work can be frustrating

but, at its best, it is seductively engaging, evoking emotions and concepts central to

the human condition, which were once embodied in the creatures of myth.

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