In this exhibition titled "Vur-vore" (meaning "go far, go forth", in old Somerset dialect), Simon Casson's potent contemporary classicism has been turned on rural Somerset, to very good effect. The paint-handling has become less mechanical and more painterly, the squeegee giving way to the hand gesture, with a variety of brush and fingure marks, dribbles and further areas of succulent, liquid paintwork and gesture, with a variety of brush and finger marks, dribbles and further areas of succulent, liquid paintwork and gestural freedom. The overlaid marks interrupt and contradict the fragmentary found images, but somehow the unity of the painting holds; impressive. Ravishingly lyrical mysteries populate the fields and woods of Sylvan England, in supremely painterly images from myth and legend. The expected is hidden, the unexpected revealed. All is open to interpretation.
Excerpts from introduction by Andrew Lambirth.
Published by Galerie de Bellefeuille 2013
Introductory text by Andrew Lambirth
20 colour plate catalogue
Tanslation by Mamuel Laroche
Design by Kristen E Dudley
Printed in Canada.
The paintings are each entitled with words torn from the old Somerset dialect, centuries in use, to lay shafts of light onto the players behind the staged scenes. Pale pulchritudinous lasses, blanketed in blossoms, surrounded by multi-layered drapery, stare out from the canvas, their identity obscured by paint smirches, smeared with fingers and brushes, allowing them to represent the ideal female, their full chronicles withheld. The pheasant and the deer emerge from the hedgerow, to engage with the viewer in the transcendental play, with paint itself playing a pivotal role as talismanic as the charismatic dialect, the characters and the landscape.
Extract from introduction text by Sheridan Casson
Published by Long & Ryle 2012
Introduction and text Smeech and Hrain by Sheridan Casson
16 colour plate catalogue
Design by Graham Rees and Simon Casson
Printer The Five Castles Press Ltd
Printed in UK
Athene Polias, beloved of Boreas Erechtheus
Oil on canvas, 180 x 140 cm. (illustrated opposite)
This work recalls The First Consul crossing the Alps at the Great - Saint - Bernard Pass,
Jacques - Louis David's huge romantic depiction of Napoleon crossing the Alps on his famed grey Arabian stallion, Marengo. (1801). In Casson's painting, as in David's, the heroic aspect and scale of the painting fits the image of the great and powerful god of the winds Boreas, in equine guise. The diagonal direction of the composition and circular flow of the horse's wind-blown mane and tail carry the eye up the hill to the procession's destination, which is the Temple of Athene Polias, personified in the beauteous Oreithyia whom we glimpse, awaiting her fate. The title refers to the Temple of Athene Polias, which was dedicated to 'Athene the Filly' embracing the notion of the horse as goddess and the female as temple. In becoming the lover of the king's daughter, Oreithyia, and the father of her children, Boreas became as a brothers-in-law to the Athenians, and his name is joined therefore with that of the Athenian king Erechtheus.
Extract pg 11 Frost and Reed Gallery.
Published by Frost & Reed Fine Art Dealers
Text contributions by Andrew Lambirth, Iain Gale, Frost and Reed with the Artist
17 colour plate catalogue
Design by Frost and Reed
Printed in the UK
Wang Min'an, PHD in Philosophy, Professor at the Beijing Foreign Language University
Simon Casson (b. 1965) is a young English painter who received a very good education which is about all I know of his background. His work, however, is extremely interesting: at a single glance, we can see that it revises and deconstructs classical painting. Clearly, Casson knows classical painting. His technique is elegant; his flawless paintings are filled with natural, flowing figures. His mythological characters' postures, limbs and curved bodies look as if they could easily glide out of the painting itself.
Nevertheless, as these are revisionist paintings, tension and dissonance inevitably arise. Apart from the realistic portrayal of the figures (as well as several still life subjects), Casson fragments the painting and then puts it back together again; human figures lack features and have only bodies, which are depicted in motion. These figures have no way of expressing their reality outside of their bodies' movement because they have no faces. It becomes nearly impossible to discern the link between time and logic among the figures in the paintings. Their backgrounds, their relationships with each other, the depths of their hearts have all been suspended. This is pure bodily movement. Yet, their movement never reveals their heart or intention; the figures in the paintings, which are mostly Greek mythological characters, are incapable of expressing their innermost secrets. It is as if they have been extricated from the limits of history, surpassing history to become abstract figures characters outside of history. However, these abstract figures must also be depicted realistically. In other words, an abstract character is depicted realistically in order to be given expression; this is truly a new way of investigating the relationship between realism and abstraction.
The meaning of Casson's revision, therefore, differs from that of Western post-modern painting because post-modernist revision implements historical satirisation and deconstruction. In Casson's work, however, we do not see even the slightest hint of satire, the grandeur of history and the classics remains untouched and unmaligned. Casson's unique revision of history and the classics stems from the fact that his paintings do not contain the biting satire to which contemporary audiences have become accustomed. For Casson, classic has two meanings: one is painting as a form of classical expression his paintings co-opt sections of Renaissance masterpieces or imitate the classic masters. The other meaning of classic is found in his use of Greek mythological characters: these mythological characters themselves constitute classical European culture. Casson's paintings themselves as well as his painting techniques are inherently classical; moreover, the figures within the paintings are classical. Therefore, both meanings of classical exist simultaneously within Casson's paintings; and although he revises classical, he never ridicules it.
Why do I say this? There is no laughter within his paintings, nor is Casson himself derisive in any way. On the contrary, we experience delirium; more accurately perhaps, the light that envelops the painting dazzles us into delirium. Fragmented figures constitute his paintings, but which fragments are they? Viewers may be able to discern that this fragment might come from Tiziano Vecellio, or from the Mannerism or the Renaissance periods, but it is difficult to accurately ascertain which painting or composition it came from or which specific story or myth it references. In short, where are these fragments from and which have been juxtaposed? While this is, undoubtedly, rearranging, as well as co-opting and imitating portions of classical paintings, in this context, appropriation and imitation are innovative. Casson inserts blurred streaks of colour into these fragments of classical paintings to obscure the body or to connect bodies; these colourful streaks effectively break the body apart and divide the painting. Conversely, we can also argue that these streaks of colour seem to stitch these fragments together. The prominence of these coloured streaks further suggests the emergence of a demarcating line, which emphasises the extreme clarity that exudes from each individual fragment within the painting. Essentially, each fragment is a distinct and complete entity unto itself that rarely interacts with the surrounding fragments due to an intense contrast in colours; there is always a bit of jagged white that ostentatiously slashes through the lushness of the painting. More importantly, however, the fragmented painting is richly textured, sparklingly dynamic, and emits a mysteriously dazzling light.
Published by Contrast Gallery
Text The Mark of Delirium and Destiny by Professor Wang Min'an
21 colour plate catalogue
Casson uses heavy and vibrant paints. He applies them liberally onto the surface so that the painting, which contains shapes of all sizes, appears to be quivering, creating the effect of a movie that is frozen on a single image. From this perspective, it has the effect of looking at a mosaic that dazzles the viewer.
Why? In Casson's mind, perhaps, tradition and classical antiquity produce this dizzying effect. Mythical themes, historical figures, and classic masterpieces are so formidable and ancient, worshipped and disputed that they are overwhelming. Casson does not intend to disrespect tradition and the classics; rather, he seeks to express a person's authentic experience with tradition. Greek mythology and the mythological characters, classical art and especially the classical style of the Renaissance depicting Greek mythological characters all have an awe-inspiring effect on people. This is the intention of the great painting tradition; it furthermore sets the standard for the heights of the next horizon. Casson's work inspires a similar effect, but rather than tapping into the viewer's heart to unleash it, he invokes a kind of dazzling delirium through his perception, revision, and painting. Truly, dazzled delirium is made up of our confrontation with our experiences of tradition and classics.
The paintings themselves are stunning. We have difficulty identifying the painting's details because we are overwhelmed. Apart from the female figures (which although nude, deny us a knowledge of their individual identity), what is it exactly that weaves through this haze? Altogether, the blurred backgrounds, the fragmented female bodies, and the floating fragments of classic paintings create an indistinct image that begs the question; what is this?
At a glance, we can discern a blithe, beautiful, romantic, and poetic portrayal of the sky and the clouds that could have been taken from a particularly sensual scene in some modern-day movie. In reality, this depiction of clouds and sky actually illustrates unadulterated joy and the elimination of strife; this image has no relation to the struggle-ridden human world. It is an exquisite rendition of natural elements. Yet, another kind of natural scenery pervades Casson's paintings, which definitively negates the clarity of the heavens: these scenes are blurred, abstract, and deceptive; they are in direct opposition to the images of the clouds and the sky. If we were to say that the images of the heavens are suffused with poetry and pleasure, then the blurred scenes from nature could be said to be the complete opposite. They come in the form of black darkness like a tidal wave (overwhelming, perhaps?), a waterfall, a desert, a cold-blooded natural disaster; are these blurred black images not a portrayal of hell? Casson's dark images of nature are unfeeling, unstoppable, fierce and swift; his brush strokes are powerful verging on violent. In the same way that sky and clouds sever the goddess's body, these dark images of nature similarly split the goddess's face. Yet, the two divergent depictions of nature in the paintings have subtle confrontations that centre on the human body and are reiterated in the opposition within colour, form, sentiment, power, and even clarity-suggesting that God places man within two fates. Is this not, perhaps, a portrayal of the universally significant question of man's two-sided destiny?
Casson's paintings depict figures, or the Greek gods, in motion; because their faces are unclear, however, we do not know why are they moving. In actuality, it is unnecessary to decipher their movement's intentions. Their movement alone expresses their struggle, striving, toils and anxiety and elucidates the mark of destiny. Whether this mark appears in the heavens above, in hell below, beneath white clouds or above the wilderness, it inevitably strikes a chord in each of us. Whether this chord is melodious or moving, it is always fragmented, incapable of expressing the complete self because it is always obscured and attacked by nature. In Casson's paintings, heaven and hell attack the person in the same way. Here, nature deals not only with space but also with time-there is the eternal aspect of destiny; within the black backgrounds or the cloud-studded sky, history is irrelevant. We can only say that fate, whatever it may be, is eternal. This point may perhaps deepen our delirium; now, not only are we overwhelmed when we confront the painting and the classics, we also experience dazzling delirium when we confront our own individual destiny.
In the past, Simon Casson's art has lent itself to the sound bytes required of modern art's sugar-rush reportage. Manners maketh mayhem, graffiti baroque that kind of thing. But this genre of headline material is no longer appropriate. Casson's voluptuous riddles of colour and interrupted classical scene still remain, but the formality of the compositions in his new series, The Empusae, at Long & Ryle, ushers in a more humane realm.
Casson trades in painterly ambiguity, reprising characters and scenes from paintings found in sources such as old Sotheby's catalogues. He then disrupts his palimpsests of Old Masters with apparently random jags, smears and veils of colour and texture, and the sheer painterly insouciance . Casson dislikes overpainting is often stunning.
But skill, even remarkable skill, is not enough. What's going on in these paintings? What makes them engaging? To understand the latest changes in his Work, we must first look at his creative baggage. Casson has always said that literary ideas inhabit his paintings: de Sade on sensual imperatives, for example; or Angela Carter on masques of alienation and abstraction, and Alina Reyes on voids and disguises. Yet, Casson is primarily an aesthete rather than an intellectual: his interest in literary-cum-philosophical speculations simply confirms an instinct for immersion in images and ideas that are implicitly mysterious.
He's particularly interested in classical myths, the more obscure the better. The new paintings invoke the Empusae , cannibalistic female monsters of Greek
myth, half-ass and half-human, with the ability to change themselves into bitches, cows or beautiful maidens. In these forms they attracted travellers and then devoured them; a combination of vampire and succubus whose current manifestations can be found in the postmodern Plato's Cave otherwise known as the Big Brother house.
Rich material, indeed, and perfectly suited to Casson's art. The morphing, via overlay and collage, of one thing into another is what happens on his canvases. And, confronted with these scenes, we duly become the unwary travellers, at risk of being devoured not by the Empusae, but by fragmentary beauty.
In her 1999 preface to Casson's series, The Wrath of Achilles, Sheridan McLardy rightly described his paintings as an "opulent, hedonistic hymn to the God of paint." More questionable was her assertion that Casson's canvasses were an unprecedented form of History painting. Despite the mythomania of the work, Casson is surely not a History painter, as such nor quite the "quasi-divine creator" he senses himself to be. He is, though, a cipher for the contemporary craving for conditions that are both Mannerist and baroque; a craving that recalls the complaint in Albert Camus's still trenchant collection of 1942 essays, The Myth of Sisyphus: "We turn our backs on nature; we are ashamed of beauty. Our wretched tragedies have a smell of the office clinging to them, and the blood that trickles from them is the colour of printer's ink."
There's certainly no smell of the office in Casson's Empusae series. And, for the first time, we encounter intimations of generous human presence. In the
past, his figures have been lusciously incomplete: the never quite fecund bodies; the lips that may never have kissed; the single ashen breast, cut-and-pasted into position; and the overwhelming stillness of the compositions, despite their literally brilliant oppositions of figure, abstraction and colour.
Casson is profoundly interested in the paint-primacy of artists such as Rothko and Pollock, but his earlier compositions can just as well be compared to the strange conflations of style, content and light that occur in paintings Loesung and Hohe, for example by Neo Rauch. The common ground is Mannerism sensually based in Casson's compositions, satirically in Rauch's.
Casson has also evoked expressive modes that tally quite precisely with certain highly significant strands of post-millennial architecture, whose forms and textures can be thought of as a new aesthetic that mimics the existential meltdown caused by what the great Dutch architect and cultural critic Rem Koolhaas describes as the "violent surf of information." This powerfully chaotic force is killing any possibility of utopianism, and leaves most of us wallowing in a hugely complex present generally bereft of any engaging sense of the past or the future, let alone the potential values and redemptions of love or primal doubt.
Koolhaas speaks of "the eerie distortion of the generic," and this is part of what generates Casson's visions: exquisitely incoherent, ungeneric smears and marks which overly the equally exquisite detritus of classical scenes that are generic. I see no fundamental difference between the architectural Mannerism found in the interiors of Koolhaas's extraordinary Casa da Musica in Porto and much of Casson's early imagery. The serpentine glass panel that separates the
Porto auditorium from its Members' Room might have been painted by Casson, and isn't very different in its surreal effect to the silkily abstract wave in one of his earlier paintings, Tantalus and Eurynassa.
Casson, like Koolhaas, is not afraid of stark juxtapositions. Yet there is something unexpectedly agreeable about them. His distortions and cut-ups he sometimes uses Photoshop software to test potential collages do not prompt furious reaction. The more apparently violent his formal disorders, the more petrified and acidic his overlay colours, and the more impossible his textures seem, the more we accept the melange.
And this has been the first paradox of Casson's work: complex layering and occlusions producing an abstracted graphic impact. Thus, the presumed History painter turns out to be a thoroughgoing abstract sensualist who requires our eye to submit completely to paint, and to perceptions and reactions that do not, after all, require significant knowledge of classical myths.
Like the work of Koolhaas and Rauch, the paintings in the Empusae series are infused by a zeitgeist dominated by the increasing gravities of the ephemeral and the phenomenal. Today, almost any painting, text or architecture that is expressed too obviously runs the risk of being thought of as naive in our chimerical spinworld.
Casson, of course, layers rather than spins, breaking up sophisticated raw material to create Ur visions. He is producing a new kind of perceptual and emotional ground that would surely have meant something to the tragic post-Lawrentian Savage in Aldous Huxley's novel, Brave New World. "I don't want
comfort," he cried, "I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin."
Which leads us to the second paradox that has, until now, defined Casson's paintings. His cornucopias of figure and abstraction should, perhaps, have made us feel a little like Michael Powell's murderous Peeping Tom, or James Stewart in Hitchcock's Rear Window. But we don't: the sexual charge that the paintings suggested in the past was defused by graphic complexity, and by the painterly corruption of known figure and landscape into unknowable gesture.
The Empusae paintings reveal major new formal and emotional shifts. They still demonstrate the dissonances of modern existence: broken narratives; jump-cuts of emotion and desire; the sense of a coded present; and a semblance of ideas. But The Empusae series illustrates the postmodern human condition with a new kind of beauty and craft that no longer seems to buy into chaos as the defining paradigm.
The richly painted graphic tensions of the earlier work are now mediated; the overall image may still be experienced as abstraction or collage, but the once stark clashes of part-figure with pure colour are much subtler. In The Brazen Sandal I, the apparent unruliness resolves rapidly into coherence: figure and perspective are the potent forces here. In the past one entered Casson's compositions via a gestalt process. Now we are engaged in a different way.
Once, the tensions between figure and random colour were often beautifully stark, and accentuated sheer painterly brio. Now, the collages are often less graphic; we sense depth rather than overlay. And the figures are becoming unlocked. It's almost a shock (pleasant, of course) to find a more or less
complete nude in The Daughter of Belus II and to encounter, in The Daughter of Belus III, sublimely tender skin-tones beyond the wildest dreams of our because-you're-worth-it generation.
The collaging is subtler and, therefore, less abstracted in overall effect. Only The Haunch of the Empusae and Lamia's Revanche recall earlier complexities, though that doesn't stop the latter from being a particularly engrossing work dominated not by collage, but by its dark, richly shadowed centre. Indeed, Casson's compositions tend now to be more centrally anchored, either via figure or dense texture. And this, in turn, produces more distinct perspectives. The Brazen Sandal I and The Haunch of the Empusae II show this particularly clearly.
In the past, Casson has caused our eyes to wander, to jump-cut, to seek out curiosities of sensation. Now, our gaze is no longer solely that of the voluptuary; it is steadier. The artist's Mannerism the brilliant mayhem is morphing into a new sense of time, place and emotional potential; we are more interested in his dramatis personae as characters. They seem, perhaps for the first time, fully vivacious, touchable, unephemeral as if they might have histories, and be attached to history. Casson, so gifted as a postmodern translator of the violent surf of sensation, has begun to consider other modes of existence.
Published by Long & Ryle 2006
Text Divining the Mannerist Zeitgeist by Jay Merrick
14 colour plate catalogue
ISBN 1873034 -06-7
We live in a fragmented world. Splintered images and sound bites impact us on a daily basis. The merciless reign of the individual has create a kaleidoscopic culture composed of ever-changing trends, innovations, beliefs and art.
Yes, art. The silent, ever-present witness to human history, that places our existence in a larger cultural context, giving it meaning beyond time and space.
Today's artist, lost in the visual cacophony that is his or her workshop, is faced with a disquieting plethora of visual stimuli front which to draw inspiration, formulate a message. The constant shifting reality of the age of globalization has driven some contemporary artists to seek out the classical, the enduring, returning to such well-tested themes as the human figure, landscape, portraiture.
Others plunge boldly, into this vertiginous, beguiling chaos, producing works aimed at provoking an instant reaction, shocking, and by nature as impermanent as the material detritus they are made of.
Simon Casson chose to reconcile the two, navigating between these diverse worlds with inspiring case. Borrowing as much from the past as the present, he reaches out to the Great Masters, appropriates themes from Greek mythology, from the sensuality of Baroque, and the mystery of the Renaissance. His large format paintings -arc a dense mosaic of images, slivers of ancient landscapes, fragments of sky with billowing clouds, a glimpse of a classical nude draped in heavy fabric... Juxtaposed against these familiar pictures arc morsels pared from a very different reality: a striped banner, like an Etonian scarf floating on air, a basket of fruit torn from another image sitting at the feet of a Greek goddess, a jagged frame with an enigmatic smear of colour...
These complex collages arc further disassociated by the introduction of rectangular patches of colour, like torn fragments
Of a colouring pad, that jut into the composition, as if breaking through from another dimension.
At first glance disturbing the already multi-layered tableau, they in fact hold the composition in check, transforming the whole into a strikingly contemporary image.
Casson adroitly plays with perspective and focus, forcing the viewer to constantly readjust to the shifting fragments that compose the paintings.
He assembles this multitude of visual scraps with the assurance of someone well versed in the demands of classical composition, and then with a marvellous irreverence, smears the faces, smudges the edges, obliterates whole swatches of canvas with sweeping brushstrokes.
His intertwining images are in constant flux, challenging a purely sensuous enjoyment of their opulence by the introduction of bold modernistic touches, that both confuse and delight.
Light is strangely absent from the works of this London-based painter. It is rather colour and form that dictate the atmosphere: dark, moist green; delicate blue; luminescent ochre; quiet, somber grey...
Casson's art is symptomatic of the times, and just like them, in transition. The past has come back to make sense of the present, while the future is already making its appearance. In his paintings, tradition merges with modernity, classicism with abstract expressionism, the movement is spiral and continual. They hover in that magical space where everything meets and parts, only to reassemble again, and thrill anew.
DOROTA KOZINSKA Montreal 2006
Dorota Kozinska is a Montreal-based writer and art critic.
Published by Galerie de Bellefeuille 2006
Text A Contemporary Romantic by Dorota Kozinska
Photography Simon Casson/ p24 Paul Simon
Translation Genevieve Hebert
Design Andres Duran
12 colour plate catalogue
At, irregularly-shaped segment of sky looms large in the midst of an interior; faceless but beautifully-painted Baroque figures cavort in whirls of drapery, next to a slice of Un- inflected colour; Dutch trompe l'oeil fruit arrangements mix with the kind of blurring brushwork familiar from Gerhard Richter's abstractions. What is going on? Simon Casson is at work, subverting the conventions of Western Realism, and making a new statement of particular relevance to us today. A statement which also does justice to the artistic heritage which bore him.
Steeped in the Old Masters, Casson draws upon the traditions of figure, still-life and drapery painting, juggling these three basic components with an ever increasing skill, governed by the philosophy of the telling fragment. To this heady mix he brings the vocabulary of modernist abstraction. He draws from life as well as appropriating motifs from Old Masters, borrowing from a variety rather than a single source. The admixture of abstraction disrupts the picture's surface (and its meaning), for Casson doesn't want these images to be too specific, or too overcharged with information.
His subject, aided and enriched by some of the least-known tales from Greek mythology, is the deluge and bombardment of today's experience of looking; the sheer overload of visual stimulus, largely due to the mania of the electronic media. Although he borrows techniques from film-making -strategies of focus and cutting, superimposing - his work is not in fact cinematic. It is too pictorially complex for that. Casson's images could only be achieved in painting. Through his considerable powers of orchestration and fine-tuning, he manages to avoid cacophany - sometimes by only a whisker.
Not simply the flesh and still-life elements in these paintings are succulent: the canvases themselves arc juicily pigmented, rich paintwork skilfully contrasted with more and passages of even greater subtlety. Likewise, areas of gorgeous abstraction are inter-cut with more 'realistic' ones. In this way, the gestural and messy is directly juxtaposed with the finely wrought. Casson revels in these oppositions, extracting from them much of the charismatic resonance his images effortlessly exert. As Goethe said: 'We are rich at the price of our contradictions.'
Casson's partial figuration, which so often borders on the suggestive, is teasingly cloaked and obscured, just at the point where revelation would be an obvious and easy option. By encrypting the logical development - arresting it, not denying it - of a given scenario, he deepens the game. He neither confirms nor denies, but by holding us up, he directs the attention towards the various possibilities that could continue or complete a fragment of supposed narrative. He thus allows the spectator to bring his own imagination into play, involving us more intimately in this now shared world view. This is art for the mind as well as the eye.
In this remarkable work, the 'slow' deeply-pondered approach that we associate with the art of the past comes into fruitful collision with the contemporary ethos of instant gratification and visual overkill. You can even see the skid marks...
Andrew Lambirth London, April 2005
Andrew Lambirth is the art critic for The Spectator. Among his recent books are monographs on Craigie Aitchison (2003) and RB Kitaj (2004).
Published by Galerie de Bellefeuille 2005
Text Making Offerings to the Gods by Andrew Lambirth
Translation by Genevieve Hebert
16 colour plate catalogue
Printed in Canada.
Simon Casson presents us with the Western tradition of figure painting reinterpreted for a contemporary audience. This is traditional observed painting fractured with abstract surface shapes and mixed with speed marks, skids of pigment, of colour and light. As one astute journalist commented, Casson's canvases have the look of vandalised, paint-smeared Titians. This is double-edged, both a tribute to Casson's exceptional skill in painting flesh, drapery and still-life objects with startling verisimilitude, very much in the manner of the Old Masters, and yet also containing the unspoken question - why paint so beautifully and then spoil it? The answer to that is complex, and lies at the root of Casson's artistic endeavour.
In this peculiar period of history through which we are living, it's not enough to demonstrate versatility or expertise as an artist, there has to be some unique (and easily definable) selling point to your work. So, on one very basic level, Casson is the artist who paints like an angel but lets the devil in to visibly disrupt his good work. He deals with complicated and - to the vast majority - little-known cultures: the Europe of the Rococo and Baroque, and the world of the Greek myths. His work needs to be fluent in these past languages, but it does not have to communicate in the manner of a history lesson. It can make allusion and suggest rather than state, but it also needs (in order to have real relevance) to say something about contemporary life. This is where Casson handles his materials so well.
The Greek Myths, though containing as much wisdom and useful instruction as ever, have fallen into desuetude since the demise of classical education. Casson, however, is fascinated by them, but more as a source of general inspiration than as a pattern-book of narratives. The titling of his pictures (such as Athene Pallas or The Moerae) is essentially metaphorical, not at all literal, and is intended to add another layer to the painting's identity and range of resonance. There is even an ironic pleasure to be had from this pursuit. Consider the titles of his previous exhibitions: The Eldest of the Fates, (1998), The Wrath of Achilles, (1999) and Tantalus, (2000). Also The Fate Clotho, and The Beasts of Hyria. Not bad going for an age that favours such benighted exhibition titles as if one thing matters, everything matters.
Such a preoccupation with the classics could be considered elitist and therefore alienating, but the art of painting has always gained in repute from being somewhat mysterious, and the added layer of subject matter with which Casson has loaded his paintings tends to reassure viewers as to the worth
and seriousness of the end product. Coupled with this is the complex emotional bouquet - just a frisson of desecration, a hint of gross moral turpitude in the fact that these images have been so thoroughly interfered with - the sort of glamour which the Greek myths always projected in their own right, but now, being relatively unknown to all but the cognoscenti, perhaps need in order to be appreciated in an unheeding world.
Casson also makes an original contribution to the still-current debate, which has been running for more than a century now, about when a painting is finished and when unfinished. He does this by striving for, and achieving, a high degree of finish. But, as one might expect, it is not consistent across the surface. The vaseline smoothness of some passages is disrupted by a chalky dryness in 'others, or disturbed by a blob or trickle. Light bounces off some areas and sinks into others. Casson is nothing if not discontinuous.
Although these paintings can be said, most definitely, to be narrative paintings, the viewer is hard put to it to say what precisely are the stories. And, in a very real sense, a single plot line is not important. There is, for example, never one single Old Master source for a painting; indeed, it is difficult to identify individual artists let alone specific paintings. (An exception to this is to be found in The Moerae, in which the drapery at the bottom right was evidently inspired by Caravaggio.) Casson sifts through the images reproduced in sale-room catalogues, lifting a passage here, a passage there, when he needs a particular motif or a reminder of an Old Master solution to a specific pictorial problem. The artists can remain anonymous as long as they serve their artistic purpose. 17th century Dutch still-life is a fecund source of imagery, but Casson regularly buys organic fruit and vegetables to obtain the sort of effects he needs. Besides referring to reproductions, he is continually drawing the figure, still-life and drapery, and mining their appearances for information.
The largest painting in this show is entitled The Aegean Zenith, and is a complex image comprising figures, drapery, still-life and interludes of painterly or hard-edged mark-making. The clasping figures at bottom right look like a section cut from a reproduction of a painting by Boucher roughly collaged onto the picture's surface. (This is because Casson has made these figures stand out from the picture plane; the other fleshly or draped incidents are carefully merged into the rather shallow space of the picture. They cohere in a different way, despite the dramatic surface disruption of the abstract elements.)
These Boucher girls are exquisitely painted, but just as much concentrated skill has been put into the rendition of the areas of non-descriptive paint. Examine for a moment the striking horizontal passage at top right. It may look simply like a passage of bravado brushwork, a piece of enjoyable gesturing on the artist's behalf, but in fact it is a highly ingenious interpretation of a slice taken across the imagery of a Fragonard painting, signifying nothing but suggesting much. Because it is taken from a pre-existing image, it is redolent of meaning, though in this context not stated. But the meaning is felt by the viewer, even if not traced or de-coded, and it brings an added authority to that area of the painting. In suchlike manner is a Casson composition built up, layered with meaning as much as with paint.
There is a stirring mixture of formality and the casual in Casson's work. The exactitude with which he draws his figures or paints a fruit is balanced by the informal gesture of dragging his fingers through the paint to interfere with - literally break up - the surface. Casson constantly edits the imagery, adjusting appearances. The oysters on the right of The Aegean Zenith begin to melt into what looks almost like a lily pond. The chestnuts on the extreme left are set off in a kind of pun against the horse's neck. The rich painterly effects are, as it were, cancelled by the abrupt gashes of white. The illusion is exposed, but also maintained.
Casson's paintings betray a wonderful variety of surface texture. Many passages of carefully applied paint look like the blur of the countryside seen through a car window whilst speeding down a motorway. (This kind of kaleidoscopic smear effect recalls the work of the contemporary master Gerhard Richter.) Yet at the heart of every Casson image is a still point, an entire absence of movement, which pervades the imagery. However fast the mark-making, the image itself is arrested, paused as if in meditative thought.
At a fundamental level, the paintings are about the way we look at imagery - the cut and splice and superimposing of overloaded quotidian looking, the eye and brain busy with registering more than one thing at once. In the same way, the construction of these pictures is intended to echo the way we put things together mentally - the haphazardness which is grounded in instinct. Casson's process is an analagous one.
Casson doesn't ever use a complete figure - in these paintings there are no heads and no feet. You might get lips if you're lucky, but that's as good as it gets. How like life. For aren't our lives full of fragments, of incomplete lines of thought, of actions interrupted by the demands of others? We may return later to take up the thought, or complete the action, but something will have changed, the continuity broken, and the thought or action might even develop differently. In this way does Casson's imagery reflect the structure of contemporary existence.
Pelias'Tourney is a hunting painting, populated by men pursuing women. A generic image of a stag at bay at top right sets the scene. Interestingly, Casson felt this painting was getting too specific - too realistic, in a word - to satisfy his pictorial and intellectual demands of it, so he blurred some of the details. In such a manner will he adjust the presence of a picture, altering the balance between abstraction and representation to make an image which feeds off the past, but exists very thoroughly in the present, yet is neither too definitely one thing nor the other. In this painting we see the full extent of Casson's ability to paint flesh gloriously - from milky blue and marble white, to warm brown and flushed pink.
Richter is benignly present in the dragged paint of The Rod of Lachesis, in the building up and obscuring or editing of the imagery. Casson is expert in the properties and potentials of his paint, its effects and drying times. Sometimes he uses a little beeswax mixed in with the paint. At most others, varying admixtures of alkaline resin. Colour is carefully pitched. Look at the still-life element on the right of the picture, and how the purple of the grapes is tellingly juxtaposed with the yellow of the apple or peach. Simple perhaps, but exactly judged. Casson's first idea for this painting was a classic S-shaped pattern through the figures, with two flanking passages. But he didn't want it too organized, or too loaded with information. That's when he starts editing his image, dulling down passages by freely overpainting, and rendering the descriptive more abstract.
The three small still-fifes named Cameiro and Clytie, contain passages of landscape painted slightly out of focus. This disorientating effect is deliberate. Casson de-stabilizes the composition to sharpen our perceptions and edge the picture away from sentimentality. The paintings also make references to the larger pieces, and echo them in the handling of the drapery effects. Cameiro and Clytie I is distinguished by the hard-edged quality of its drapery and its honeyed colours, and by the
sensuousness of the oyster in its shell and the half-peeled lemon. (The peeled fruit is a recurrent motif, as is the pomegranate.) But there is disquiet here too; why else do I keep thinking of the neurotic hyper-realism of Salvador Dali?
A Casson painting is composed of a number of diverse shapes locked together to form a new unity. There is a complex interweaving of space - the apparent randomness is actually highly structured -with checks and balances of shape against form, of contrasting weights, of surface and illusory depth. Those strange angular shapes floating on the picture surface, made with masks of newsprint which Casson attaches to the canvas and paints round, are evidence of his tendency towards more overt disruption. In these new paintings, Casson takes less trouble to disguise his interventions, and is more actively subversive. Elsewhere he reinterprets drapery, making marks with plastic sheet applied to the picture surface which are intended in themselves to look more like the texture of fabric.
Structure (and editing) is all. Casson himself mentions Hitchcock's Rear Window in this connection, with different things happening in different windows - or areas - of the painting. There is also something of the capriciousness of the gods about the activity - the collage-like juxtaposition of discrete elements - though there is none to be seen in the luminous finished paintings. Simon Casson attempts something heroic and utterly contemporary in these new paintings, and has the wit as well as the skill to pull it off.
Andrew Lambirth London & Bath: September 2003
Published by Long & Ryle 2003
Text A gloss in the old Masters by Andrew Lambirth
10 colour plate catalogue
Printed by Printwise of Lymington
ISBN 1 873034-03-7
Tantalus, in punishment for his various obscure, mythological crimes, was hung for all eternity almost, but not quite, in reach of luscious fruit with which to slake his thirst, and with a huge rock forever about to fall on him but never quite doing so. But then, this state of, well, tantalisation was a favoured punishment for the ancients: think of Sisyphus fated eternally to push a rock up a hill without ever managing quite to get it to the top, or Ixion, revolving endlessly on a wheel in Hades.
Simon Casson knows all about the technique of the gods, the fascination of that which is offered and then at the crucial moment withdrawn. It is not that he designs his paintings to torment us, but in an era which regards ambiguity, whether in literature or in the visual arts, as a positive quality, a violently divided response to what is put in front of us becomes the rule rather than the exception. Then there is also the new model of "deconstruction". How Casson tantalises us is to construct what appears to be a classical composition - a nude in a landscape, a still life of fruit and gleaming silver, a creature like a dog or a swan which has unmistakable mythic overtones - and then take it apart before our eyes to reassemble it into something entirely on his own.
The striptease is a classic form of tantalisation. Its effect on spectators is all to do with the way that visual information is proffered and withheld. In the same way, Casson loves to set up a tableau, get us straining to work out its referential significance, and then whip away vital sections. They are either not there at all, or we sense that they have been, but then veiled again as rapidly as unveiled, or overlaid by something else. Usually something quite abstract. It is as though Titian has yielded up a canvas to Jackson Pollock or Asger Jorn. Indeed, we may remember that some of the more playful yet serious work of the Danish master consisted in, precisely, daubing an inescapably modern image on top of some conventional pre-existing piece or representational painting.
Where Casson resembles Gypsy Rose Lee more than Asger Jorn is what he withholds (protects?) from our excited gaze is all his own work, and clearly glamorous rather than, as in most of Jorn's gleeful perversions, basically boring or naive. What would be the point of Casson's art if we did not very much want to see the beauties partially hidden beneath the seemingly random overlays of alien paint, which are sometimes applied in savage dashes, sometimes simulate a literal collage made with other elements in their own way just as highly finished?
Of course, eroticism is a vital part of that. on the most elementary level, everyone knows that total nakedness is much less of a turn-on than partial concealment. It is all to do with building up expectations and then teasingly refusing to meet them. There is inevitably something very sensuous about the representational elements in Casson's paintings: not only the obvious allure of the female nudes or partially dressed figures, but even in the still-lifes, where there is such evident relish in the way that fruit and flatware are rendered.
The nudes in themselves might be expected to provoke some argument over political correctness, the male gaze and all that. But somehow they do not. Perhaps because of the unmistakable, inherent placing of these elements in another time, another place, which means that we approach them without excessive concern for the criteria of what may or may not be considered acceptable in our own time. What we are faced with is rather a dialogue between two periods, two kinds of art, two different sensibilities - albeit coexisting in one artist. And the parallel with the striptease can be carried only so far: if we look at what is concealed or suppressed, it has little or nothing to do with the erogenous zones. It is more likely to be the face or the extremities.
One is reminded, then, of two things. One is the rise, about a century ago, of classically trained sculptors' making partial figures, abstracting the shape of the human body by confining the sculpture to a torso, a shoulder, a hand or a foot. In this context Casson's forcible displacement of attention from the head in particular becomes a strategy of abstraction. And second, that it is easy to fall into the trap of resuming abstraction and classicism are necessarily mutually inimical. Not for nothing is Poussin Bridget Riley's favourite painter: what she recognises is both the important element of abstract geometry in Poussin's work, and the important role of shapes and rhythms derived from humanity in her own abstractions.
Salvador Dali once remarked that the only thing we cannot help being, however hard we try, is a modem artist. I hardly suppose that Casson wants to avoid it, despite all his references in his work to Renaissance subjects and Renaissance techniques. He is, after all, building a bridge between present and past. If he de-constructs Titian and his kind, is it only to put the pieces together again in a way that can speak to us in their terms and at the same time in ours. And of course, above all, in his.
John Russell Taylor
Published by Long and Ryle 2000
Text Simon Tantalus by John Russel Taylor
8 colur plate catalogue
Printer Newham, Newwark and Chambers
"The Wrath of Achilles", the title painting from the exhibition of the same name, depicts Odysseus and Diomedes exacting a raid into the Trojan camp by moonlight, to capture Rhesus's magnificent white horses, foretold by an oracle to make Troy impregnable. This monumental work drives History painting into the next millennium, embracing the wealth of tongues within the history of oil painting, from the High Renaissance sfumoto to late 90's paint manipulation. It sets the theatrical stage for the whole show, one of Renaissance allegory, with allusions to Greek Mythology, both in title and thematically.
Rather than choose a path of either non-objective or figurative art, Casson performs an adhocism, to use a design term, combining pre-existing elements from the
entire oeuvre of visual art to discover on unprecedented form of History Painting. Casson's work could be seen to follow the ideas of Reynolds, who at that time urged
contemporary art to absorb the influence of both the Antique and the Renaissance. The paintings are a potent mix of carnal, primitive paint application, reminiscent of a De Kooning, stirred together on the canvas with the academic technical skill of a Titian.
Within a painting human perception conventionally operates in such a way that the figure appears to advance and lie in front of the background. In Casson's paintings, in common with much abstract art, the "figure" and "background" seem to occupy the same space and the relationship becomes fractured, a spatial disharmony, with the "background" assuming equal importance to the subject of the work. Lush flesh engages in bellicosity upon the canvas, with elements of landscape evolving into pure abstraction. This echoes the paintings of Montegna, in which formalised figures appear to pale in comparison with a seemingly unimportant fold of cloth or a carved pattern within an architectural screen. Casson's paintings employ abstract illusionism, with brush strokes emphasised by shadows, materialising to float in front vaporously of the picture plane. In "Polyxeno Avenges Troilus's Death "the goddess like figure fuses into the heavy drapery, which in turn stumbles into a rugged boulder strewn landscape of hot colour,
crested by a early spring sky.
"Laodameia's Embrace of the Brazen" typically depicts a female figure elevated to a higher status, with a goddess like bearing, or perhaps a she is a tyche, a representation of the presiding spirit of a city. She presides over a cornucopian on setting of intense brocade drapery, whilst behind her, in contrast, lies a sparse fare of dry hardened bread. Before the figure, there hovers a manic veil of abstraction, whilst cutting into the canvas from above is a sharp section of harsh, synthetic orange paint, appearing like a torn or peeling billboard or deckle edged paper, collaged on to the canvas.
The title, an inquiring mind will find, refers to Laodameia who was so aggrieved by the death of her husband (the first casualty of the nine year war) that she had carved a wax statue of him. A servant mistook the idol for a lover, when Laodameia had been forced into a remarriage to another so aggrieved by the death of her husband (the first casualty of the nine year war) that she had carved a wax statue of him. It was ultimately her downfall, The painting could be seen to take an ironic glimpse at the frailty of the graven image, the fade of beauty, of finery which may cloak deep tragedy. Yet despite possible analysis, the paintings have a connoisseurship, in that they may be approached by the spectator on face value alone, untitled and unintroduced.
Although Casson's paintings in part embrace the sublime abstraction of the current allover paintings of Process Art, in which the spectator is invited to reconstruct what has been executed upon the abstract canvas, with no central focus, through the evidence placed before them, the sweeping statement of a decorator's squeegee perhaps, they are didactically opposed to this form of multiple. Casson's works are High Art, singular statements of pure uniqueness, with contemporary abstraction inflicting it's imprint upon the often capriccio paintings with predatory slabs of textural pigment. Decollage and calligraphic mark-making marry to form a fall of drapery, whilst an iconic centralised classical form fights for supremacy with a cold, formalised, almost emotionally bereft still life.
Renaissance by definition means rebirth. It has been used to imply the revival of Latin and Greek and the ancient world, and the expression of new attitudes towards humanity by artists The paintings of Simon Casson seem to symbolise a new renaissance in contemporary painting, heralding a revocation in the fortune of the discipline. "The Wrath of Achilles", his first exhibition in Spain, is on opulent, hedonistic hymn to the exultant god of paint. As with the Abstract Expressionists of the 1950's, in particular Rothko and Pollock, Casson deals with the concept of the importance of the individual, particularly in the liberation of art from tradition. The antithesis to the current collaborative movements, these works stand alone as a defiant battle cry, and Casson unapologetic in his role as aesthete.
Published by Conei 1999
Text: Simon Casson by Sheridan Mclardy
16 colour plate catalogue
Design : P.G. Producciones Graificas
D.L : B-41836-99
Published by Long and Ryle Gallery 1998
Concept and research : Sheridan Mclardy
Text : Introductory by Sheridan Mclardy, Simon Casson by Iain Gale
Photography : Tom Lee (pg 24 by Simon Casson)
Printing : David Sharp at Rayment Printers
To look at a painting by Simon Casson is to travel at one glance across three hundred years of art history. Casson paints Old Masters. But he is no mere pasticheur. His purpose is not to imitate in any retrograde way - but to use the images of the past to harness new and original ideas with which we can all identify and which, ultimately he hopes, will open our minds to the simple truths of our existence.
It is, perhaps, despite the precise titles of his pictures, never entirely clear quite what Casson is painting. The majority of his works deal ostensibly with the female figure - classical in genre and dress, each of them exuding a perceptible feeling of anticipation. But what exactly are they waiting for? Love? Sex? Redemption? Retribution? All are possibilities. None are important. An equal blind alley is the sense in which Casson's art is to do with the way in which men objectify women. But lest you begin to imagine a militant feminist subtext to these paintings, it is important to realise from the start that what we have here is really a lesson in the way we all address all aspects of visual imagery. Certainly these are seductive pictures, often they are sensual - even 'sexy'. What they are not is voyeuristic, in any exploitative sense. Rather, they play on our senses, inviting us in with a suggestion of Dionysian excess, prior to hitting us with a subtext which reveals their true beauty, conveyed through a quite different medium than that of mere voyeuristic gratification. Casson achieves this by infiltrating his Old Masters with a series of bold brush marks - searing blocks of colour.
It may perhaps seem extraordinary that, despite the fact that Casson deliberately obliterates what we might on first acquaintance, have perceived to be the essential detail of his figurative subject matter, his canvases can still be termed 'heroic'. They have a wonderful monumentality, Casson's painterly intervention in additional relevance to the post-modern world. In painting his areas of pure abstraction, Casson questions the reason behind the making of the original Old Master paintings. In their initial incarnation, these works satisfied a need to feed off mythology at a time when heroic deeds served as both role model and a source of vicarious excitement. He invites us instead to look at the brush stroke itself and consider its own, incontrovertibly heroic nature.
Of course, Casson is not alone in using Old Master paintings as the basis for his own art. Such contemporary artists as Glen Brown, Julie Roberts and Alison Watt have recently made similar raids on the visual wealth of the past. Unlike Brown though, Casson is not out to make a cheap joke at the expense of
art history. Rather, it is Roberts, interfering as she does with familiar imagery, drawn specifically from the age of the Baroque, who most clearly echoes Casson's penchant for deliberately unsettling the viewer. Watt, in her turn, recalls his tendency to de-personalise, robbing her borrowings from Ingres of their sense of identity simply by removing their heads. Unlike any of these artists, though, Casson is not specific in his imagery, gleaning his prototypes - often hybrids concocted from a number of lesser-known masterpieces -from the pages of saleroom catalogues. He also uses paint in a way much more akin to its handling by the original masters. Yet, given this degree of painterly verisimilitude, at the same time each of the paintings functions on its own terms, principally as an essay in sublime abstraction.
For an artist who might be termed 'abstract' to focus on ancient mythology and classical thought is, of course, nothing new. The Gods have long left the preserve of the Old Masters. Think for instance of Pollock's great canvas Pasiphae, painted in 1943, of Rothko's preoccupation with Greek myths as symbolic parallels for mankind's fears and obsessions and of Barnet Newman's late 1940s series of pictures on the theme of Euclid. In the realm of the figurative too look at the Surrealists' use of such subject matter, from Venus and Oedipus to the Minotaur, as vehicles for their own investigations of the human psyche. Casson's method might even define him as a quasi-Pop or Post-Pop artist - appropriating specific images and applying them to his own process. The difference here though which distances him from Warhol or, in more contemporary terms, Sigmar Polke, is that the images from which Casson borrows are not within the everyday language of popular culture - gleaned from the press or some kitsch wallpaper pattern - but part of the esoteric visual vocabulary of high art. But, it does not follow that, if Pop monumentalizes everything it touches, Casson's work has the reverse effect. For it does not denigrate the idea of high art but subtly transforms it.
just as the artists of the Renaissance and the Baroque resurrected the ancient Gods, buried during the dark ages, for their own didactic purposes, so Casson has in turn resuscitated their method of painting -painstakingly naturalistic and at the same time lush with bravura brushstrokes. And as the Humanists managed to integrate the same Gods with their own God of Christianity, so he marries the obscure Old Master painters of his choice to the new painterly faith of the modern age - the language of abstraction with its concomitant theosophical baggage. Casson plays upon similarities between Baroque art and 20th century abstraction. just as the one involved a search for the sensational as a means of approaching a closer communion with the almighty, so the other has traditionally pursued that same goal by transcendental means - allowing the viewer to peer through the frame of the picture plane into a world beyond.
What this means, in essence is that, while the myth of Leda and the Swan for instance, might have been held to parallel the descent of the Holy Ghost to the Virgin during the annunciation, both can be seen as metaphors for the abstract notion of a meeting between the natural world which we all inhabit and some intractable, divinely-informed spirit. What Casson suggests to us is that a similar dialogue - with the same ultimate message - also exists between the overtly symbolic and complex iconography of the Old Master mythology painting and the primitive mark-making of such as Pollock or Rothko.
These paintings work on several different levels. In Aphrodite on Mount Olympus, for example, Casson produces both a hymn to beauty and an art which is entirely original - a refreshing revisionist look at the language of painting and the way in which we expect a painting to affect us. The body of Aphrodite, the Goddess of love, as revealed by a shapely, beckoning leg, becomes simply a series of contours - part human, and in part taking their form from the land itself. Thus, literally, the Goddess becomes the mountain. Her beauty only needs to be present in our mind. It is necessarily ideal. And yet, in another dimension, this painting is also a large abstract - drawing us into its uncertain, ambient depths with all the power of a de Kooning. And as we gaze deeper into this ambiguous, molten space, what once appeared to be so certain an image, seems almost to be deconstructing itself before our eyes.
Look also at Casson's Demeter at the Feast of Tantalus. On one level, of course, it is quite possible to understand this painting purely in terms of its aesthetic impact. To look at it as an abstract composition and then to integrate into this the straining nude torso, the fragmented still lives, the luxuriant drapery. But, merely understand a little of the myth from which it draws its title and this extraordinary image takes on a deeper level of meaning. Tantalus, having been entertained on Olympus, divulged the secrets of the Gods to man. As punishment he was placed, for eternity, in one of the underground rivers of Hades with, hanging over his head, a temptingly laden fruit tree. Every time he tried to drink from the waters they would dry up and every time that he tried to reach for the fruit he found it to be just beyond his grasp. Now look again at Casson's painting. Here, in uncompromising imagery of now terrible beauty, it is a parable of despair. A revelation of how so much in life can be unfulfilled. How hopes can be raised only to be dashed in an instant.
Similarly, The Eldest of the Fates, demonstrates the admirable aptness of the Greek practise of seeking explanation for the inexplicable in the invention of the deities. There were three fates: Clotho, Lachesis and the eldest Atropos, who was responsible for severing the thread of life. In her was vested the ultimate power of life and death. For Casson, she is a reclining Boucher nude, her face typically obscured, presented within a blue-draped boudoir which blends seamlessly into a passage of pure blue paint reminiscent of Sam Francis at his boldest. It is a good illustration of the essence of Casson's art - how some physical action - in this case death - can be symbolised by means of colour and form - the sheer lugubriousness of Atropos' naked body emphasising the cruel, apparent randomness of death.
This sense of being subject to ruthless, unavoidable destiny, of our being governed by what the ancients termed 'the Gods', permeates all Casson's work. Take his image of Tartarus, the deepest level in hell in Classical mythology, located some distance below Hades. Here is a place of unimaginable suffering and punishment, whose queen, herself the apparent subject of the picture, must clearly be the most uncompromisingly unpleasant being in the universe. Here though, she is represented by nothing more than a still life of fruit on a carpet, infiltrated with flat areas of grey paint. This might at first seem strange, particularly when seen among such other, apparently literal representations of `the Gods'. Yet think about it and the implication becomes clear. It is the painting itself which has become, in a sense, 'the Queen of Tartarus'. An uncompromising pseudo-anthropomorphic icon of western artistic tradition, it holds our gaze - and returns it, keeping the viewer forever in range, encroaching upon our sensibilities, imprisoning us in a living hell which denies escape from the mental prison of art-historical frames of reference. It is a warning of the evils of compartmentalisation from which Casson so clearly wants to escape and from which he also wants to liberate his viewers. If we only try to open our eyes and minds, he suggests; if we only take the trouble to look, we can learn the real lessons of art. )* can understand that all painting, as we see it today, before us on the canvas, is in a way 'contemporary'. That art is not about specific periods and styles, fashion or facture. That it is not even (as one museum director famously has it) about power, money, social-climbing and sex. Art rather, in the hands of Simon Casson, is a unique means of understanding a little more about the essential mystery, truth and irony of the human condition.
lain Gale November 1997