The Foundry Gallery is playing host to a retrospective of British artist Stanley Simmonds throughout the fringe. The recent fire at the Phoenix Estate had threatened the location of the exhibition, luckily the Foundry was left almost entirely intact and only a small number of paintings have been placed in nearby Lewes House.
The number of strikingly good works I encountered allows me to confidently encourage a visit to this exhibition.
Simmonds' work was varied in both style and quality. Formally Simmonds is rooted deeply in a multitudinous tradition of the post-war British artist. His paintings move from early representational landscapes through to abstract, colourful pieces. In my view his most impressive work falls in the transitional moment he must have experienced as an artist in-between these two modes of aesthetic production he worked with.
Simmonds' move to London, and his subsequent shift in focus away from the natural towards the porters and early morning scenes of Billingsgate Fish Market represent his most substantial collection of similar pieces. Much like the exhibition as a whole this series is incredibly varied. Some pieces felt quite moving while others lacked that something special which one cannot quite put their finger on. My favourites of this collection combined a lending on the abstract form, with blurred cubes and faceless men scarred by sharp, dark brushstrokes. It creates a quite beautiful combination of blurring and distortion with sharp focused outlines; it was an effect I highly enjoyed.
His later abstract work I feel lost a lot of the originality of these 'transitional' pieces. The angular Red Abstract drew striking similarities to Mark Rothko's White Centre (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), 1950, and others seemed to draw heavily on early 20th century French artist Robert Delaunay. Simmonds' intertextuality with these other painters is not something I would obliquely criticise, yet I felt originality was harder to come by in these pieces; they did not build on artistic statements others had made but merely borrowed from them. However, Abstract 1963 I felt was a perfectly executed work. Its soft colours were in absolute tandem and harmony, and while the piece was firmly in an abstract tradition there was a sense of the architectural within the piece. It was as if the buildings of London were peering out of a dense, smothering fog. I was quite entranced by it.
Although, every brilliant work was mirrored by a poorer counterpart. There were some extremely dubious pieces including medieval knights a horseback and Ophelia-like water spirits clad in green fabrics. I believe these could have been completely left out of the exhibition; they seemed almost entirely at odds with seriousness of the whole affair. The number of strikingly good works I encountered allows me to confidently encourage a visit to this exhibition. Its housing is a treat, as are a number of its works.