Simon Clark’s paintings are a collision of cultural artefact and text and conjure mythical stories through associations within their subject matter. Clark explores the role of kiwiana in a cultural context, asking why and how it has become a part of New Zealand’s history and identity. His paintings portray re-constructed realities, memories unfolding, and histories evolving. Areas of layered, darkened spaces surrounding vivid, glowing images, reveal a nostalgic longing for what once was but now has changed.
Text and image relationships are central to Simon Clark’s paintings. Instead of labelling or defining the meaning of the work, words open up endless possibilities for the viewer to explore. The phrase “Five Thirty for Seven” refers to the dinner party invites of the 1950s, and spurs conversations about codes of behaviour, but it also has an intriguing, ambiguous quality and the viewer is left asking “what does it mean?” Like the past, the meanings of his paintings aren’t tied down or fixed, but change with experience. And although everybody will have a unique interpretation of the works, Clark presents objects of kiwiana that are instantly recognisable to all, referring to a shared past or collective memory.
Visually, Ranch Slider is strangely recognisable, maybe a pie label, or even a religious portrait. The name resonates with the classic sliding door on the family’s kiwi batch yet when placed in relation to this glowing cowboy Ranch Slider has farming connotations. The product of a strong culture of beef and sheep farming in New Zealand, here Clark thrusts the Kiwi pie-eating man into an iconic status.
The explorative nature of kiwi culture is glorified in the ironic and wittily titled Endeavor. A candy-coloured caravan and car travel along the painting through hazy patterns often found on 1960s biscuit tins, but also the shape of cogs and wheels. Placenames of New Zealand towns are jotted carefully over the surface forming topography with text as a stylised sun glows in the distance and memories of childhood holidays play in one’s mind.
Influenced by his surroundings Carbine Road is motivated by his experiences of working in the factories in Mt Wellington during his school holidays. The brands of New Zealand industry are stamped on the background of the work, where images of the Chesdale Cheese brothers and Frosty Boy are placed. There is a Pacific feel to this work- a doll is captured in a recognisable dancing pose, adorned by a grass skirt.
The surfaces of Simon Clark’s paintings are highly glossed and finely finished, yet areas are scratched away, over-painted and layers of what once was are only glimpsed through the darkened backgrounds. Other areas of the work glow and shine with a hyper-real quality. Looking closely at the murky background of If You Can Make a Cake, You Can Bake a Loaf, one begins to see the many layers of colour and paint that have been peeled back, scratched away, re-painted and built up. A familiar figure, a doll of times past glows brightly in the centre of the work. As with all of his paintings, Clark’s works evolve and like memories, some areas are clear and lucid while others have changed or disappeared.
It is easy to become entranced and entangled within the many stories and narratives in these works. Not only because elements of the work are recognisable and “close to home” giving each viewer a very personal experience but also because they have a seductive, slick and stimulating visual quality.