Doni Silver Simons- Citizen LA (May 2009)
The Persistence of Memory There are at least tens of thousands of marks in her studio. And yet, another mark is
made and will continue to be made. Each created with painstakingly deliberate strokes of a self- inking archival pen or a paintbrush or coiled paint drenched rags. The line begins at the top, starts over again, every four ending with a diagonal and then on to the next. We have all seen this mark before- the tallies used to take inventory of objects, a way to mark the passing of time, a means of visually quantifying just how far away the future really is.
Doni Silver Simons calls herself a mark maker. In using the mark, a symbol well understood in the Western world, Simons has devised a way to communicate a narrative through the marks she makes. Some are bold strokes that occupy an entire canvas, while others are small lines that run off the canvas into an infinite space. Some of her works look as though they have written on tablets or scrolls and references a Semitic language that recalls history, antiquity and creates a “balance between the old and brand new, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.” I learned that Simons who is left-handed writes from right to left so as not to smear the ink of what was just written. Her practice of mark making which came from practical reason aligns her work with Judaism, whose Torah scrolls are also written and read from right to left. Her “Antiquities” series however with a polished effect makes sheets of paper look like the walls from a cave look and the small repetitive hand looks as though they could have been written by a prisoner, marking on a dank cell well with the edge of a rock. No matter how the mark is presented the works all express a preoccupation with memory, which, isn’t old or now, it has just always been.
Simons is drawing the novel of memory- two of her projects each required a year commitment, working everyday. The discipline and attention that her works require make them works of art onto themselves. Simons calls herself a mark maker, “If I have the ability to speak through drawing then I should be able to speak by making a mark that is repeated tens of thousands of times and it should begin to tell a story.”
Her story began as an informal project in 1975 writing marks in pencil on graph paper. “This is where it all began, with me deciding if I was an artist everything I did should be visual, it should not be words… I translated all information to marks.” Her journaling has become more precise over the years as she uses only a particular type of paper, and the same pen. “Center Justified: the Journal,” which appeared in her last show contains 40 sheets of zinc paper written over one year, and a total of 3 pen self-inking pens. The work is displayed in an opened black photo box and viewers can read the journal beneath a layer of plexi-glass. Simons also supplied a pair of gloves to be worn if anybody wishes to handle the journal and read through entire work. Simons’ own Moleskin journal placed on top the plexi-glass documents the yearlong experience of writing the journal and the painful comfort she found in the highly ritualized experience. This journal however is private- not be read by anyone. Even for the catalogue photograph Simons intentionally opened the journal to a benign page. Herein lies another dichotomy in the work of Doni Silver Simons- the separation between the private and the public. Simons has created an art practice that documents the fragility and vulnerability of mark making and the memories created along the way. In presenting a private journal into the public gallery space, Simons reminds her viewers that although her work can be visually consumed, it cannot always be decoded. Thus she has safeguarded her memories and preserved them on canvas and paper.
Journaling becomes as much as the ritual as it is about mark making. Using the self-ink pens until they run out of ink- her hand develops a memory of the way it feels to hold in, she becomes accustomed to the sound the felt tip makes when it hits the paper, and the fading of the ink is visual manifestation of the way a memory recedes in our conscience. Proust would have reveled in Simons’ strict practice that requires she sit at her desk each night and document the events and mood of each day. We read through “Center Journal: Justified” together, carefully turning each page like an artifact written in an ancient hand. The marks recede and re-appear and Simons explains that she feels like an like an archaeologists who has buried the mark and goes “digging in to find it again and find the new mark.”
Upon approaching the end of her journaling Simons battled between finishing the project and losing the ritual that consumed her. “The piece was going to end no matter what. Even if I had more to say, the piece was going to end on the date that is started a year later and I remember writing and feeling like I had to finish it so I would work harder and harder at the end. And I realized that it irrelevant, but there was thing inside of me that couldn’t give up the feeling of wanting to finish the piece, it was really interesting battle in my head and my hand.”
Another plane passes by and momentarily eclipses all of the marks on the wall. Located just off the runaway of the Santa Monica Airport, Simons’ shared studio space is filled with works from her current show “…lines…” and is consumed by 365 a wall of 5 x 7’’ canvases. Simons committed to making one painting a day for an entire year. Some have scored marks that exposed the interior of the canvas, while others have been brightly painted and polished. Simons admits that to seeing all of the canvases “together for the time was pretty amazing. And then we put it up on the wall and when I saw it on the wall I was stunned. I thought it had a voice of its own.” The original concept was that the piece would be sold off day by day but Simons has decided that the piece will remain in tact. She plans placing photo paper behind the canvas so that a photo image will fade and leave a memory, and “that will be mine.”
Currently Simons is working on the “Residue” series, which integrates her terry cloth rags soiled with years of paint onto the canvas. The artist’s paint rags are a rather tactile representation of memory as they literally soak up paint and reveal an insight into the painter’s experience in the studio. Simons explains that in order to depict memory accurately, “memory is the residue of experience, it’s what left over. So what’s residue? Residue are paint rags.” The memory fibers of the material are the only thing to bear witness to and literally absorb Simon’s practice. They are remnants of paintings past, both art objects and a mark to communicate the “residue” of experience. They are what’s left. They are covered in a concoction of colors that don’t even exist on the color wheel.
Having made so many marks in her own work, I couldn’t help but wonder if Doni Silver Simons feels as though she has left a mark of her own. “I hope so. I hope so.” She says quietly while casting a reflective smile. “History will decide for itself but I would appreciate being judged.”
Doni Simons is currently showing “Marked” at Hebrew Union College and “…lines…” is showing on Sherry Frumkin Gallery.