In the fall of 2009 artist Michael Anthony Simon left Chicago behind, and moved to the countryside of Korea. He wanted to experience a new place and culture that would hopefully inform a fresh body of work that could exist beyond the constraints of the western art world. In the spring of 2011, contemporary artist, Ai Weiwei was arrested on falsified charges of tax evasion by a notoriously conservative Chinese government. The claims were suspect to say the least, and many silent protests were organized throughout the world by major museums and institutions calling for his release. These silent protests became a louder gesture than anything anyone could have audibly said. This act of defiant solidarity became a source of motivation for Simon in the year to come. Realizing that by attempting to silence something you make it’s presence that much more apparent he commenced on a series entitled “The Silence Paintings”. Analyzing the design and significance of the word ‘silence’ in different languages lead him to the creation of an intuitive process that would allow for compositions to develop naturally, but with purpose and intention.
While working on “The Silence Paintings” Simon started to analyze the idea of nature, and realized what an active roll it played in every artist’s practice. The materials an artist uses have to come from somewhere, and he began to dissect that relationship. Rather than buying or building a stretcher made from cut down trees Simon chose to eliminate the middleman. By selectively choosing to paint specific elements in nature he was able to draw attention to the singularity of the individual objects that, taken as a whole, create the world that surrounds us. Unlike the use of manufactured lumber – this process does not kill the trees that he employs to construct his work. The foliage is painted, the picture is taken, the leaves fall off, and the plant starts to rebuild itself. Simon is part Native American, and the idea of how he interacts with the world is something that continually reasserts itself in his practice.
What initially began as a “high-lighting” of different natural elements quickly developed into a series with far broader implications. Simon came across a huge spider web in the forest one day while choosing the location for his next piece, and began experimenting with that as the next logical progression in a rapidly evolving body of work. What he couldn’t have counted on at the time was where this accidental discovery would take him. Fast-forward six months, and Simon’s studio has become a factory of sorts. Many skilled workers meticulously build elaborate concentric structures between plastic rods secured atop various geometric plinths. The presence of these assistants would not be so surprising, if they were human. Through many months of trial and error, Simon has developed a method that allows him to harness the inherent artistry of what many consider to be one of nature’s most horrifying creatures. First, he locates and captures a particularly industrious breed of spider in the surrounding areas, and then (with a bit of guidance) allows them to do what spiders do best – build webs. Once completed, he returns the spiders to where he found them, and begins coating the webs in countless layers of misted lacquer. The process is unlike any I’ve ever seen, and the result is beautiful. Sculptures, as much about formalism as they are about industrialized labor.
The work is part of a broader dialogue, one that exists outside of conventional eastern or western boundaries, and it is this universal approach to art making that sets the work of Michael Anthony Simon apart from many of his contemporaries. With a few major institutional shows under his belt in Korea, an upcoming trip to the States, and the official release of a new website slated for the Summer of 2012 – I can guarantee you that we will be seeing much more of this artist’s work in the years to come.