Jane how did you and Simon meet? I know you worked in Brisbane for a while and he is based in Toowoomba but still that’s quite far!
J: Simon and I met in 1997 when we were both living in Brisbane. We spent a lot of time working together as installation assistants at the Museum of Brisbane and doing various other jobs for the Brisbane City Council. There was one memorable Christmas where we had to make large scale bamboo insects as part of the Christmas decorations for King George Square.
Through this lens – of working on art exhibitions, I came to a better understanding of Simon’s practice as an artist.
S: I thought we first met during the Lancaster County Amish Quilt show where you and I and Stephen Ralph played “Deathman”(which was like hangman but with varying modes permanent of departure, the form chosen helped was also the word from memory)
J: Ah yes, now it’s all coming back to me! You’re right Simon.
Why did you decide to curate an exhibition of Simon’s work?
J: Simon had mentioned previously that he was interested in the context of the Mailbox space and although he’s shown in Melbourne a couple of times, I feel that he’s a very strong mid career artist whose work hasn’t been shown widely in Victoria. I’m also aware that as a contemporary artist working from Toowoomba you would crave dialogue and contact with other artists.
You say in your essay “this exhibition appears to fall outside the spectrum of contemporary art.” Is it simply Simon’s aesthetics you are talking about here? Can you elaborate further on this?
J: Sometimes you come across people and their entire character seems rooted in another era. Simon strikes me as a bit like this – it’s not just his drawing style or subjects, but the way such a broad sweep of unusual temporal influences is integrated into the way he lives and works. Further, these objects elude easy recognition as art objects – it would be quite plausible if I told people they were a collection of Victorian postcards.
Have you worked together in the past? Will you do so again in the future?
J: Yes, I worked with Simon on his wallpaper project by writing the catalogue essay and I also recently conducted an interview with him for his forthcoming monograph. I’d definitely like to keep working with Simon into the future. In fact, I’d be happy to put up my hand as curator of his retrospective at QAG/GOMA in 2037.
Simon can you tell us more about the exhibition it’s titled Alphabet Soup- Does this refer to the Visual Spoonerisms you’ve used?
S: A bit, the title grew from the art. The art was a response to the problem presented by 19 small spaces – of which I tried many, many solutions. Visual Spoonerism represent the deliberate visual misplaced which has fun with expectations. Alphabet series always have an expectation or punch line built into their frames work through its “A is for….” As I researched I had to narrow down the images I found inspiring repeatedly as I had well over 100. When it came down to making the final choices sometimes the text, or lack of text, leapt out but otherwise I would choose the image and the text would suggest itself, sometimes I would change the text as better suggested title came to me.
You say in your artist statement for the show that you were looking “at vignettes, postcards, Punch and Judy and 19th century street imagery around boxes and narrow spaces” can you tell us more about the research you did?
S: Initially I thought that this would be a simple and easy project (HAH!). I usually work a lot larger than 17 x 7cm so I tried out a range of solutions and discarded them when they didn’t seem to work. My ideas were initially to create a form of sequential Dickensian inspired narrative like a 18th century cartoon, then a Punch and Judy series, then making small doll objects and placing them in boxes (I even had the boxes made to fit) then of an invented alphabet. I tried all of these and researched them all in turn until I finally worked out something I was happy with.
You also mention “this series owes part of its narrative dialogue to pastiche”. Are the artworks in this show a pastiche of these influences?
S: I think the above answers that in part, but also the alphabet series invites separate panels that make a whole which gave me the artistic freedom to not have to worry about narrative consistency.
Jane points out in her essay you use a very specific colour palette and have been doing this since 2008. Why?
S: That owes lot from my decision to step away from painting and into drawing and how this evolved. I started using a coloured ground in the painting much earlier and the favourite ground was usually like a Wedgewood blue, as I grew dissatisfied with the painting realised that I like the under drawings of white and black on blue more than the finished product so I started to focus upon that colour range and it all went from there.
What where the challenges in creating this show?
S: For it to make sense, to be enjoyable and meaningful, scale and to “let go” expectations to allow the solution to present itself. For me, this was a lot harder than I expected, but the viewer shouldn’t have to burdened with that but instead should be able to experience a work that is successful, I hope.
You say yourself that you have always been “unfashionably late to the conceptual party”. Have you caught up yet?
S: Nope, especially as I am becoming very wary of fashion or “cool” which to me is about how a work is received by others and not about working with the problems in front of you – and I don’t like parties. Invite me to an unfashionable conceptual coffee and chat and I’ll be there as long as the coffee is real… conceptual coffee has a bad aftertaste.
You can see more of Simon Mee’s work here