George Simon, Georgetown, Guyana
"Shamanic Travel" drawings
Banyan Presentations and Workshops:
14-01-08 Bina Hill Institute, Guyana
This is how Elfrieda Bissember introduces him in the catalogue to ‘Moving Circle.’:
“The painter George Simon is recognized as a leading figure of this group, the originator of a workshop in drawing and design in August 1988 which guided many of the artists then in early stages of development. Academically trained in England first in printmaking and more recently for a second degree in archaeological research techniques, he remains, despite his travels in and out of Guyana for long periods at a time, an organizing force for the group, arranging and urging participation in exhibitions such as this one. Simon’s own work has transmuted from graphic, representational studies of Amerindian life to flat, decorative-patterned compositions of objects to atmospheric landscapes using the acrylics and gels that are still his chosen media in this exhibition, though with the addition of gesso underpainting and oil glazes. These are used here in experimental works on paper, their starting point being bones and skeletons.”
What follows is based on an interview with Simon at the opening of the exhibition.
He was born at St Cuthbert’s Mission on the Mahaica River and studied for his BA at Portsmouth Polytechnic (1975-78) and MA at University College, London. His most recent travels outside of Guyana took him first to the African republic of Chad in December 1998, where he worked with the United States Embassy Public Affairs Department’s Language Centre. Following this, Simon went to Lyons,
France in 2001, where he was Artist in Residence at the Arts and Spices Gallery.
He had an exhibition there in December 2001. Since then, most of his time was spent in Montreal, Canada. While there, he was asked to organize a group of Amerindian dancers and musicians for performance at ‘Guyana Festival’ in Toronto, to celebrate Guyana’s Independence in May, 2002. From July to mid-August he was in Haiti working with a programme for the fight against AIDS. He returned home to St Cuthbert’s Mission in August. His major project there has been the construction of a building, which will be the beginning of an art centre where the Mission’s artists can exhibit their work. This was opened on September 10, 2002.
Simon has returned to exhibiting in Guyana with a fresh new eye. The work is strikingly different from the way it was known in the 1990s, reflecting his most recent experiments with texture and techniques. Many of his paintings now on show have a distinct relief effect. But while this emerged from the totality of a four-year sojourn through three continents and at least five countries, very little was produced in Chad.
“I found it very difficult to paint there.” That period did produce two pieces now on show in ‘Moving Circle’, The Tree and Smiling Deer, influenced by his flight over the desert when he could see the waves in the vast acreage of sand.
He was impressed by the view from above revealing trees and neat blocks of residential structures, which informed The Tree. But Smiling Deer took a very long time to be completed.
In one respect, Simon is like Stanley Greaves. Despite his high formal training, he declares: “I work intuitively. I believe a lot in the sub-conscious. What comes from deep inside is amazing. In Chad, I confronted a different landscape, a total transformation from what I was accustomed to. I was in shock. But I was comfortable with the music because I could find a familiar link in the music of Africa, Brazil and the Caribbean. These links are particularly strong in Haiti and Latin America.
“Chad is caught up with a conflict between Christianity and Islam. While the Christians’ dress is western, it is the Muslims who wear the traditional African dress. I saw the work in wood and ceramics in Chad and in the Cameroon. It had so much of its own power and presence, you do not dare think you will reproduce it. It’s intimidating. I could not do any art that was religious in that part of the world. I saw the mosques, the painters dealing with landscape and with religion in a highly distorted fashion, not realistically. They shun clear images, preferring exaggerated, elongated representations; camels look like flying birds with their elongated necks. Their studies are predominantly abstract. It disturbed my equilibrium; I was unbalanced. One could only admire.”
However, Simon also found art difficult in Chad because there was not much of an interest and artists struggled to sell their work. “I worked with five artists, who I mostly trained, and we did a show in 1999. We started the only art gallery in the country, called ‘The House of African Art.’ I also worked with musicians. I was manager of a group called H’Sao, who won a bronze medal in music at the Francophone Games in Quebec.”