Simon Carr-Inside the World: Scenes from City and Country

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Simon Carr Inside the World: Scenes from City and Country


It isn’t a snake, it is consciousness, A peak above the clouds. It isn’t a snake, it is the shaft of the mountain, Veiled in thickest fog. It isn’t a snake, its ekphrasis, Its memory, its effusion. —Leonard Schwartz From the forthcoming book “Serpentarium” with poems by Leonard Schwartz and watercolors by Simon Carr

Simon Carr Inside the World: Scenes from City and Country

This catalog was produced in conjunction with:

Simon Carr Inside the World: Scenes from City and Country January 2-25, 2020 Bowery Gallery 530 West 25th Street New York, NY 10001 646-230-6655

Thanks to: Martica Sawin for her essay and the interview. Her generous attention and time are very much appreciated. John Goodrich for the catalog design and photography. His patience and skill over the years has made much possible. Mark LaRiviere and Thaddeus Radell, friends and exemplars. Lydia Cristina Carr for text editing and literary direction. Sam Carr for his professional help with the installation. Ben Carr, for his inspiring enthusiasm. Gabriela Carr for the happiest time. Thanks to the Provincial Lady and the Beloved B's. Thanks also to Leonard Schwartz for permission to use his poem. His most recent book of poetry is Heavy Sublimation, published by Talisman House. Special thanks to Cristina Carr, who takes me on the most inspiring trips possible, and above all to Malcolm, Finlay, Una and their friend Bess.

Front cover:

Weighing In (detail)

2018, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 60 in.

Inside front cover:

Flowers I (detail)

2017, graphite on paper, 18 x 24 in.

Hunter (1985)

Simon Carr: Paintings 1986 to 2019 Martica Sawin The great revolt was back to the figure. —Simon Carr Art is first and foremost content. —Jan Muller (notebook, ca. 1956) Simon Carr’s first show at the Bowery Gallery in 1985 signaled that something different was afoot—a sense of mystery pervaded the gallery. Out of shadowy depths emerged hunters, dogs, animals. Something floated in a dark body of water. There was the sense that a drama was about to unfold. Two years later in his next exhibition it had indeed unfolded or, more accurately, exploded. Three large canvases, covered with swirling strokes of paint in turbulent motion, made up a triptych that had been inspired by a visit to Grunewald’s Isenheim Altar in Colmar. In the center panel where Grunewald placed the crucifixion Carr painted a huge raptor, wings outspread, descending toward its prey. The image,

Isenheim #2 (1988)

prompted by an actual incident Carr witnessed in Colmar when a hawk carried off a pigeon, is almost dissolved in a centrifugal composition that Carr says derived from observing composition in Delacroix. It has been evident from the outset that for Carr painting was to have content, content derived in one way or another from aspects of human experience, portrayed through images of the human figure, via energy invested in the painting process and the force of color. For a time he turned to themes of bestiality and violence, wanting, as he said, “to express the beast within the beast”. An increasing preoccupation with disturbing subject matter in the early 1990s reflected his fascination with the “outsider” art known as Art Brut and his parallel literary interest in the writings of Georges Bataille and Antonin Artaud. He was drawn to the work of Jean Dubuffet who “granted autonomy to the material” and he traveled to Lausanne to see his great Art Brut collection.

“I began to know some of the artists and was fascinated by the power of the work,” he recalled. “The material was speaking to them and they trusted what emerged. It gave me an insight that there has to be that leap...the moment where you lose control—that’s when a painting takes on that kind of energy.” Carr’s subject matter has primarily been human activity. His canvases throng with people, usually as characters in a narrative, whether from history, literature, or the local scene. Although there is continuity in the vigorously worked surfaces and forceful paint handling, his output since his first show at Bowery is not so much the product of a gradual evolution as it is a sequence of distinct chapters, each with its own subject, tempo, and emotional tenor. His art has unfolded in a long journey: surging crowd scenes from the Biblical Book of Acts were followed by strap-hanging subway riders jostling each other in rush-hour congestion; a calmer interlude gave rise to flower-dappled fields painted with all-over gestural touches of the brush. More recently his canvasses have been occupied by processions of children, dog-walkers, and strollers promenading along the Hudson River Park near the artist’s New York City home and studio. The arrival of a new bakery in the neighborhood prompted views through steamy windows of chefs perfecting elaborate confections. Vacations spent at an upstate family farm inspired paintings of dusky barn interiors with horses seen against pastoral vistas through the open door. An overview of the whole offers a range of subjects that collectively portray a many-faceted view of the human condition, similar to the way it unfolds through a sequence of Balzac novels. Mithras #3 (1992)

How did it come about that this child of the fifties, the decade when Abstract Expressionism was at its zenith, turned out to be a narrative painter, dedicated to telling stories with paint? When asked if there was some aspect of their upbringing that made story-tellers out of both him and his brother, a noted author of mystery novels, several about serial killers, Carr responded, “There were writers in my family for generations. In different ways my brothers and I were all trapped in the same narrative. I just wanted to paint my way out.” The way out he discovered was not through objective copying of the perceived world, but through the portrayal of emotionally charged narratives in paint. Carr’s childhood was spent in the heart of New York’s downtown scene among the artists and writers who were his parents’ friends. He remembers as a small child looking at gobs of bright colored paint on someone’s painting table at eye level and reaching up to put his hand in the tempting pigment. Among family friends were artist members of the Tenth Street cooperatives like Jan Muller, the German refugee painter of both large-scale Expressionist canvases and small vases of flowers that glowed like stained glass, and Bob Thompson, painter of colorful expressionist works, who died at age twenty-eight. Living at first on the West Side near the Hudson River piers, Carr was familiar with afterschool violence in the neighborhood and the working world of longshoremen and meat-packers. Later when he moved to the lower East Side there was the free-wheeling life style of the beat poets and a growing community of artists, along with the storefront cooperative galleries they founded. The first time Carr paid attention to art as a serious undertaking was at Goddard College in Vermont where he studied with former Hofmann student, Jim Gahagan, chair of the art department. Gahagan had run the Hans Hofmann School for several years, and closely followed the principles Hofmann taught. The latter did not constitute a straitjacket of directions for making a painting but provided a framework for moving back and forth between the perceived subject and formal structure. Probably the most influential “take away” from Hofmann’s teaching was the building of space through the interaction of planes of color—the famous “push and pull” that spread from Hofmann’s progeny to further generations of art students. Carr also studied with John Heliker at the

Art Students League in the early 1970s and later at the New York Studio School with Leland Bell, and later with Bell and Resika in the Parsons School of Design Graduate program. The fact that both Bell and Heliker had returned to perceptual painting after an early commitment to abstraction may have reinforced Carr’s determination to deal with the human drama in a representational style. “For me,” Carr recollected, “the great revolt was back to the figure.” Through Bell, Carr, among many other young artists, was led to the work of Jean Helion, a founding member of Abstraction/Creation in 1930s Paris, who, after a World War II escape from a German forced labor camp, turned to representational painting. Carr found Helion’s paintings, despite their strong abstract underpinning, “especially helpful in escaping from abstraction.” He found Helion’s writings also influential.” I still go back to them now,” Carr says. “He is a painter you learn so much from, so many possibilities.” Another artist whose work made an early impact was Jan Muller, a refugee from Nazi Germany whose early abstractions evolved into haunting figurative works with images drawn from Faust and the Bible. Muller’s legacy was echoed in the paintings of two family friends, on the walls of the Carr home, Dodie James Muller and the prolific young African American artist Bob Thompson. Although Carr may have been too young to see the five exhibitions of Muller’s work at the downtown cooperative Hansa Gallery, of which Muller was a founder, he eventually must have absorbed something of the philosophy of engagement that survived him. In a notebook of 1956 Muller wrote: “In our age the artist cannot take flight from the rottenness of society. He has a responsibility toward that stench... and must try to reach the more social position in his ethical and moral evaluation of life. He cannot take flight to the Elysian Fields. Art is first and foremost content.” During the 1980s Carr accompanied Bell on several visits to Jean Helion’s studio outside Paris. There he saw late mural-size triptychs so large that they had to be rolled out of storage on an overhead track. These triptychs dealt with plebian subjects on a grand scale, street scenes, flea markets, construction workers, the riots of 1968. Like Helion in his late works, Carr’s choice of subject has a distinct populist streak in the anonymity of his men, women, and children moving through city squares, markets, and waterfront parks.

Whether he is watching bakers at work or capturing canine attitudes in a dog run, he has increasingly become an astute observer of the quotidian, capturing the ordinary in an off-guard manner as it might be randomly glimpsed out of the corner of an eye. Carr was well beyond his student years at the point when the figure became all important in his art. As a child in the West Village, he had attended preschool at the church of St. Luke in the Fields. When, years later, an apartment became available at the nearby Westbeth Artists Housing he moved back to his old neighborhood, reconnected with St. Luke’s, and began a serious study of religion, making a commitment that became a significant part of his life. The result for his art was a change in both style and subject matter as he immersed himself in narrative painting. With his faith renewed, Carr set himself the challenge of a series of paintings based on a Biblical theme, choosing dramatic events from the life of St. Paul as told in the Book of Acts. “Doing the Bible scenes was a happy time for me; I was involved in my own religious experience, vividly lived. The paintings are my voice. It was trying to do religious painting that brought me back to the figure.� In 2007 the large paintings from the Book of Acts were shown in the Princeton University Chapel and at Union Theological Seminary. In this recounting of episodes from the life of St. Paul, Carr focused on the problem of narrative: how to tell a story in paint in such a way that it goes beyond providing descriptive detail in order to stir the emotions through the power of form and color. Unlike the training in visual art of days gone by, there was no clear path in the late 20th century marked out for an artist Jesus Heals a Paralytic (2003)

who wanted to paint in a narrative tradition. However, there were always the museums. “The Met formed me,” Carr likes to say. “It’s all there, all with me, so nourishing, so rich. I was trained to use the museums, to use art.” Like his teachers before him Carr takes or sends students to draw directly from masterworks in museums, not to copy, but to explore and analyze how the components of a painting come together. Filed away in his brain are the images of hundreds of artworks gathered during his obsessive museum-going. “They are not there to be copied,” he says. “I recreate in the studio from the drawings.” A long ago visit made to Carr’s Lower East Side studio when he was working on the Isenheim altar triptych corroborated these words. The walls of the crowded tenement room were literally plastered with drawings—both from life and from the art in museums, including those made from the balcony of the Grunewald Museum in Colmar. And the same can be said of a recent visit to his studio on a top floor of Westbeth; drawings still crowd the walls waiting to be reflected on canvas. The drawings are most often of people, whether in crowded streets or from a model in the studio or copied from a challenging painting. While these were not intended as studies or preparatory drawings for larger paintings, they are evidence of the preliminary activity that enables him to paint on a large scale with an uninhibited directness. He is able to approach his canvas with a tremendous reserve of knowledge of the figure, a practiced hand, and confidence to move ahead with the scenarios that preoccupy him. Carr’s studio is lined, floor to ceiling, with stacks of paintings, like an accreted shell formed from a natural process. In this case that process is fueled by an obsessive drive to forge ahead with whatever image is propelling him, without allowing time for indecision or pondering. His thick applications of paint result in scumbled surfaces that tend to refract light, especially when a sprinkling of sand is embedded in the pigment. The marks left by brush and palette knife testify to the artist’s engaged presence as his powers of spontaneous invention build toward emotionally charged images. The material substance of paint takes over, translating from the hundreds of drawings surrounding him in his studio to feed the multi-figure compositions on his canvases, images stored up not only in his brain, but in habitual motions of his hand.

Carr explains that he sees the characters enacting the event in his head as he paints. The painting is not a pre-ordained transcription of the story. It is an unfolding experience. His renderings of episodes from the Book of Acts are not scenes staged in a separate space. Rather he draws the viewer into the turmoil of a mob scene or places a surrogate onlooker directly in the path of a falling body, as in the case of Eutychus. A crowd, pressing around the powerful figure of Paul holding a writhing serpent, moves upward across an energized canvas surface, rather than into an illusory depth. The sea of horror-stricken faces is allied to German Expressionism and to the witches in Jan Muller’s Walpurgis Nachtscenes from Goethe’s Faust. “The painting is not just an illustration,” according to Carr, “but reflects how it’s experienced and how it is painted—you have to live the story. I learned how to live the painting. Even with the Book of Acts I was going back and forth with the text.” In 2007 the large paintings from the Book of Acts were shown in the Princeton University Chapel and at Union Theological Seminary. Seen in the kind of interior for which they might have been destined in an earlier century, the paintings enhanced the space with meaning as well as luminous color. After the crowd scenes, high drama, and religious fervor of his Biblical paintings, Carr changed to a prosaic subject that emphasized the ordinary individual. “After the Book of Acts came the subway,” he recounts. “I was trying to communicate a sense of community. I had a vision that the subway epitomized a place of community.” His many direct sketches made while riding the subway were later incorporated in large complex paintings that remind one of Depression era subway riders by Reginald Marsh and Isabel Bishop. In contrast with the congested human mass in Eutychus Falls into Life (2003-04)

the St. Paul paintings, the subway riders are individuals in the acrobatic poses necessary to finding space and maintaining balance on a crowded, lurching train. Here his on-going practice of life drawing comes into play as his figures evoke familiar looking passengers in familiar poses and we sense the spirit of community that the artist responded to and sought to convey. Despite an atmosphere of compression and depersonalization, the subway series projects a sympathetic view of the human capacity to endure. Compared with the confinement Spilled Coffee (2008) and below-ground pressure in the subway cars and station platforms, the recent park scenes have a relaxed spaciousness. In this series one is especially aware of Carr’s comments on the relation of figure and space. “Space,” he maintains,” is built out of what figure fills it. A figure moving through space is what makes space. Figure painting is what allows the paint to talk.” A lively dynamic is in play in his newest children’s playground paintings where small isolated figures are dispersed over an up-tilted ground on large square canvases. Instead of a taking in groups of figures in compact compositions the eye is required to bridge distances, trying to make connections between units that remain apart. Having taken the viewer through a complex saga of humanity, Carr seems, at least momentarily, to have brought his focus close to home with a series of barn interiors from his family farm. These complex paintings combine horses, figures, and haybales in shadowed indoor spaces with sunlit landscapes stretching as far as distant mountains framed by the open doors. In short there is an entire cosmos compressed into a single composition along with a timelessness that evokes millennia of human, animal, and earth interdependence. There is a satisfying complete-

ness to the juxtaposition of open and enclosed, light and shadow, stillness and movement in a single composition. And, as in all Carr’s work, even his small vases of flowers, there is an implication of drama—something is happening or about to happen that enlists the imagination. Given our present disembodied, digitized selves, can an artist today attempt to show us who we are? What a relief to encounter ourselves on Simon Carr’s canvas as another might see us, greeting a neighbor, walking a dog, hanging on to a toddler. Even though we may G, Maxi, and Bess (2011) feel adrift in a cyber world, Carr’s paintings remind us that there is terra firma under our feet and a community of creatures in a physical world, and that we share aspects of a collective memory. His work reassures through its tangible presence and the physical evidence of the artist’s painting process. It is meaningful that we can still perceive ourselves through art just as humans have for millennia, whether as Neolithic hunters, Assyrian warriors, citizens in the Panatheniac procession, or among the damned and the saved in a medieval Last Judgement. And, the making of art being perhaps mankind’s supreme accomplishment, what a pleasure it is to see it still carried out with dedication to an ideal and respect for the medium.

Critic and art historian Martica Sawin has been commenting on contemporary art in print and in the classroom since the nineteen-fifties. She is the author of Surrealism in Exile and the Beginning of the New York School and numerous monographs and catalogue essays.

Inside the World: Scenes from City and Country

Paintings, drawings & watercolors

Lost Fruit

2019, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30 in.

Farmer’s Market

2019, acrylic on canvas, 56 x 56 in.

Clockwise from left:

Compost Collection

2018, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 in

Autumn Market

2018, acrylic on canvas, 50 x 60 in.

Market Study

2018, graphite on paper, 19 x 32 in.

Clockwise from bottom left:

Playground Study II

2019, acrylic on canvas, 33 x 39 in.

Composition Study for “Playground” 2019, graphite on paper, 19 x 24 in.


2019, acrylic on canvas, 54 x 56 in.

Top to bottom:

Market Watch

2018-19, acrylic on canvas, 44 x 84 in.

Pink Bag

2018, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 56 in.

A Conversation between Martica Sawin and Simon Carr October 2019 Martica Sawin: Sitting here in your studio, we are only a few blocks from where you grew up. What was the most profound part of it [growing up in NYC] in terms of influencing you as an artist? Simon Carr: About growing up in the city? That so much was available. That the museums were there, that books were there...secondhand bookstores [were] all over the place in the neighborhood we grew up in...There was so much, it’s so rich...I remember being really little and going up to the Museum of Natural History and copying down Mayan heiroglyphics and painting them back on to a glazed pot I made using “Mayan” technique...And I still feel that way about the city, that’s it’s just so rich and so deep, that there’s always nurture, there’s always something to feed’s always surprising, there’s always something to feed you, always a horizon. MS: The milieu of artists and writers that you were in through your parents also added a certain richness. SC: My family definitely put the focus on artists and was assumed you’d be in some kind of creative field.

MS: Your father’s friends the Beat writers, were they around when you were growing up? SC: I don’t think my brothers and I could appreciate them as much as we probably should have, because the other side of that scene was very violent, alcohol fueling everything...As children, it was so unsettled, it was so crazy. There was no stability...So you developed an interior sense, an interior world. We all, in one way or another, took to books, took to old movies too, we had all kind of things. But it was really in books, that you could get an alternative world ...The good impact was that there were painters all over the place, I grew up looking at painters like Bob Thompson and Jan Muller and Dody Muller, and I knew the work...That was what I sat and stared at...I knew how to look at a paintings because I sat and stared at so many of them. Not just reproductions, just... paintings all over the place. I really stared at real paintings...They may have been abstract paintings, or there were figurative paintings, but there were real paintings. We were surrounded by them. This idea that there was this thing, painting, and there were real paintings, not reproductions...nothing in a book, but that there were those things, and I knew what they looked like, and I’d taken them off the wall and I knew what canvas was like and I knew what a stretcher was and I knew what a palette was, that was all something I had access to and I knew people who had made them. When I was young, when I was at the Studio School or someplace like that, if I closed my eyes and thought where am I going, it would be more or less a Jan Muller painting...that kind of language. And also coming from Dody Muller...when we knew her as children, she was painting, not like Jan, but very close in style, painting heads the way he painted them, but painting flowers in a way all of her own, a way I still think of....those paintings were all over the place. They were on every wall of every room I ever knew as a child. MS: Did you know the museums as a child? SC: I learned early on that the museum was the source, MOMA had the cool surrealism, but the Metropolitan was, and is, THE museum. My earliest expe-

Clockwise from right:

Bikes by the River

2018, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40 in.

Soccer Players

2019, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24 in.

Circus in the Park

2019, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30 in.

rience of art was being a a young artist at the Met. And my very, very beginnings with paintings I was at the Met. Before I even knew anything at all, I was looking at that big Poussin on the steps, The Beautiful Gate, and thinking, “Why are the blue and the red doing that?” Because they were just jumping apart. And that was my fascination ever since, the Met, but also now I’ve been able to go to some other museums with London, the National Gallery... the Wallace Collection, funny little collections like the Foundling Museum, they’ve got the most terrific William Hogarths. He is another painter that I return to often. In Hogarth I saw the idea that there’s the world you’re in, of infinite fascination, and you confront that with painting, but the other world was the museum, and in a sense they’re both intermingled, so you’re in the museum to understand...what painting is, and then you’re out in the world to understand what the world is. But I was in the museums right from the beginning. Right from the very beginning, I was thinking in terms of studying in the museums copying, drawing, to learn how to see, to compose. And I still do. For instance, Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, I saw for the first time a couple of years ago, and of course I was totally and incredibly and absolutely enthusiastic for what that painting is, even more for what it was before it was cut down. But the discovery of that real painting and the investigation of that is all part of the same thing, of seeing the world . I used to think they were one hand and the other hand, museum and world, but they’re not, they’re the same thing. Understanding how to see a painting is understanding how to see, to experience, the world. MS: You visited Jean Helion a number of times in the 90’s, was his work influential? I’m thinking of the street scenes, the late big triptychs of May ‘68...or the flea market scenes. There doesn’t seem to me to be much connection between Helion and these paintings of yours, which are comparable in subject...the people in parks...or bakeries at work through the window...but the whole way of working couldn’t be further from Helion as far as I can see it.

Loaves and Fishes

2018-19, acrylic on canvas, 46 x 68 in.

The Provincial Lady at the Bakery

2018-19, acrylic on canvas, 54 x 72 in.

SC: Over the years, since I first knew his work through Leland Bell, who introduced me, and then many summers I spent in France teaching, we would go visit Helion. (You were there that one time in his Bigeonette studio when he started pulling out those huge street scenes.) Those paintings have the ambition to paint a full scene...not just a bunch of figures...Helion wanted everything in the painting...If he was painting the student revolt in France in ‘68, he’d paint figures piled on each other and a huge fire in the middle! What a crazy thing, everything he could see, full of shock and amazement! And there in the middle was a bonfire. Throwing orange around! But he was like that...everything could come in, everything was a possible subject. Even public toilets! And I liked that...As an intellectual example too...once I began reading what he had written in the ‘30s (when he was still painting abstractly), I understood that he was describing a way of reading painting and understanding painting that any painter would immediately recognize as the painter’s way of seeing. But he’s very precise, very clear in those articles. He was a wonderful person, he was very, very kind, and was always very friendly. The times I went to see him alone, he’d always remember who I was and pile me up with catalogues and things. Even when he was almost completely blind, he would talk about paintings like they were right in front of him. MS: So much of your work over the last few years takes place in your neighborhood, the world you live in. I wondered how you yourself related to that subject matter. SC: Well I definitely did it because of personal impulse, a kind of burrowing in. I remember living on the Lower East Side when Cristina and I first got married—which was ‘76, ‘77 and I was doing these little street scenes. There was a bocce court near us, I mean it was still a very different kind of neighborhood then. But old men playing bocce, and I’d go there and do drawings, and do little paintings of the men playing. I mean, it’s always been what’s in front of me. There’s always been this sense that something’s happening, that there’s a world I’m in and there’s a way I’m reaching out to it

and there’s a way it’s affecting me, that there is a secret out there. It’s not just what is in front of me, it’s the conditions of what’s in front of me. When my first daughter was born, there’s piles of paintings of her when she’s a baby and Cristina holding her and interiors of the apartment we were living in. So it’s not just—it’s not an arbitrary thing. Something grabs you and something holds you and there’s a kind of a back-and-forth...between me and the motif...I think I am painting figures the way I’ve always painted, which is not always a good way in the sense that I’m very hermetic. The same thing all the way through. It’s not—I don’t know if it’s a good impulse, interior world…somehow it reaches out and coincides with the world when I find the right motif. MS: OK, so let’s talk about these horse and barn paintings. Because...bakery scenes and park scenes and so on are part of your general ambience, but they’re open and public spaces and all kinds of people are flocking through. The ones of the horses being shod in the barn or just riding out in your local meadows seem much more intimate and personal...I wondered how you yourself related to that subject matter. SC: If there was—if I am happy about pursuing painting so hard for all these years, it’s that in the end, which is now, in the end I am able to experience things that way. So I can experience things—not everything!—but I can experience things intimately and intensely, and those barn paintings are an example. I had no plan to paint the barn, and I just got inside the barn and said “Oh, that looks interesting,” and the next thing I know, it’s...months and months of painting...There was a kind of intimacy with the scene. And I can do that with horses anyway...It took me a while, but right when the first horse came in and I saw the first horse just walk by, I knew that I had to draw it. And from that moment’s like biting into the apple...I was completely hooked technically. I mean, how do you draw a horse? I completely didn’t understand how a horse was put together. And to understand how the legs work and the...articulation of the legs, and how that’s the human arm or human leg, but reorganized...anyway, I was completely fascinated

Bakery 1

2018-19, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 54 in.

Bakery from a Ladder

2018-19, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 29 in.

and overwhelmed and then that was the end of that, ever since then I’ve been trying to draw and paint horses. MS: I haven’t seen your horse drawings. SC: They’re mostly upstate, but there will be some in the show. That was also when I had to confront the use of photography...I’ve always drawn from photographs, in fact the very first hunting paintings in the mid 80’s were from drawings on the wall of the studio, but a lot of the actual drawings had been done from figures in The New York Times…sports pictures, or pictures of friends...and I had to do that with the horses because...I’m so bad at it. I’m better now, I can make them up a little bit better...I’ve used photography a lot in the last ten years to draw from...I draw bits and pieces from a photograph, say of a street scene, and then from the drawings assemble something. MS: Like with the bakers? If you were to stand out in Eighth Avenue drawing the bakery windows— SC: No, I did, actually. But...for ones where you’re looking at the bakery from above, they gave me—it’s so French, they saw that I was drawing and we got to be friends and everything and I came in one day and I said I’m going to try to take photos...and the owner said, “Oh no, don’t worry about it, I’ve got a ladder downstairs!” And they gave me this eight-foot ladder that I stood on the top of. No storekeeper in New York would ever do that! So there were some photos. But the thing is, about all these scenes, is that they’re barely recognizable from the paintings. If you knew this bakery, you might recognize it in some ways, but it’s been so transformed by the process of me painting it. Just like the horses. They’ve been so transformed, the street scenes have been so transformed...There’s some kind of digestion, some kind of intimacy that I create in the scene...I’m not even looking at the bakery any more half the time...these things just come out...the same with the street scenes...I’m doing drawings, but it’s not like I’m doing a specific day and a specific person. There’s something else going on and I really have no more profound insight than that, other than

they become interiorized. There’s something else driving them that—it’s as if somehow I become the world. It makes the world important and makes the world inevitable and…pressurizes the world. And these paintings have to be made. But what that pressure is, I don’t know...I’m so involved in the process of...experiencing these things... MS: You did say you kind of have the dramas of these things being acted out in your head in a other words, say you’re doing a scene from St. Paul’s life, before you do it, or as you’re doing it, it’s taking place in your mind? SC: That was true of the Bible pictures especially because I was experiencing the stories directly. The paintings are almost all New Testament. The stories are so vivid and so visual when you read them. I was experiencing them directly...the images were popping out, I mean I could barely control myself. I was doing so much drawing and so many compositional studies and so many bits and pieces...There were so many paintings that got made in those few years...The Book of Acts was really sort of the finish to that, they were the... achievement of that. But there’s plenty of other things going on. Yes, it’s just— that’s what taught me how to paint horses, in a funny way...To experience something that intensely and have a visual image come out of that’s what I can do now. It’s what I can do with horses, it’s what I can do with street scenes. I can experience them that intensely, and then they need to be expressed. There’s a kind of necessity to be expressed. MS: ...Your paintings are very, very generous... SC: I want them to be. I’m giving the paintings, to the people in the paintings. In a sense, all the years I’ve been involved in the Church has been a refining...what that kind of giving is...It’s not hard to do, but it’s hard to explain...In the end, that’s what painting is, it’s giving something. I don’t know if many people feel that way about painting. But it’s a giving’s a the world of something I think is joyful. MS: And something most people can’t do...

Riders and Dogs

2019, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24 in.

Top to bottom:

Crossing the Stream

2019, acrylic on canvas, 26 x 30 in.

Trail Rider

2019, graphite on paper, 14 x 14 in.

I wanted to ask you about the substance you mix with your paint, if it’s marble dust, sand, whatever it is... SC: No, playground sand. MS: And you do it pretty consistently now...all the paintings that I see have this texture... SC: Yes, everything. Everything’s got sand. MS: But all these little bumps are refracting light. SC: Yep. MS: Is that what you want it to do? SC: I don’t know if I thought it out, but once I realized what was going on, I saw by building up the surface like that the light bounces all over the place, the light bounces in and out...I like that a lot...I use sand in the gesso now, and I use sand in the painting, and sometimes I just stick the brush in the sand to build up the surface, and play that against depth. MS: Depth is a strategy that the painter employs to create that effect, but what you’re doing is actually material— I think that sometimes it interferes with seeing the image, because you’re seeing so much light and shadow and…the image kind of gets lost. SC: I just love that! When a painting’s built up to the point when you’re laying in, almost like you’re building...[or] plastering a wall...There’s a moment when it takes on a kind of reality like that. I guess...I’ve been playing with that ever since I can remember, between the paint and the image...back and forth between the paint and the image...the paint pops up and the image pops back. I’ve been teaching a drawing class recently where I’m trying to mimic a version of what Hans Hofmann taught. Working from the model, but the model in space, as part of spatial volumes and movements. Maybe the interrelation

he called push and pull. I’ve been thinking a lot about that idea of breathing in and breathing out, that kind of push and pull, that kind of respiration that a great painting has, that any painting has. That you breath in, and you breath back out again...It never ends. It’s not like you do that once...I think a good painting should do that. A good painting should be a breath...a breath of life that you breath in and you breath out, it’s like an oxygen, it gives you life that way. MS: That’s a…quite unique concept! SC: I guess! [laughs] But paintings do breathe, and they’re alive that way, and to look at a great painting is to become more alive, to breathe along with it. To breathe in and breath out, the volume in and the volume back and the volume in and the volume back. That’s why I can’t get away from stating the surface...That’s why...academic illusion painters...the poor students, they fall into that trap, they see those drawings online that look just like a photo and they come in and say, “Look professor, look at this...” And I say. “No! It’s terrible!” And they get it after a while, but they’re really baffled. They say, “Why is it terrible? It looks like a photograph!” That’s not what painting is...painting makes the world real. And photographs...they serve as reminders, I guess. I always used a lot of scumbling in the paintings, even when I was using oil. There was a lot of scumbling and a lot of dragging paint across the surface, because I liked so much the physical sense of the paint, so that you could play the physical sense of the paint against what you were representing. And I think that just got heavy. So that’s why I switched to acrylic, because I could make that even heavier. And I think that was just a function of that, it wasn’t really so much seeing it in other artists. Though I guess if the idea of sand came from anybody, it came from Braque. Late Braque has always been a kind of a landmark to me. But my paintings very different from Braque! I mean he uses it in very concerted ways. There’s...areas of sand against smooth areas. He’s using all kinds of different surfaces within the painting—dry areas against wet areas...I wanted more

Study for “Chores”

2019, graphite on paper, 14 x 17 in.

of an all-over surface. I mean, we’ve talked about that before...some of that comes, I think, from a life-long fascination with the work of Walter Sickert, When I’ve been in London in the last few years I’ve spent a lot of time with Sickert, and with the great late Sickerts that they have at the Tate...My paintings don’t look like these paintings, but certainly he has an attention to surface and the way surface can dissolve into an image and then reassert itself that’s really interesting to me. MS: I have to think about it more. SC: But in the know Bruce Gagnier had a recent show at the Studio School...he had all these life size figures standing around, grouped in different ways, filling the I walked around the room I felt less and less real and the sculpture felt more and more real. And that’s exactly what I feel like with painting. When you’re in the museum, or in a great exhibition of painting...compared to the reality of a great painting...we’re the shadows. Back in the cave, we’re the shadows and these are the real things...When I’m drawing the model, the drawing is real. The model’s going to get up and move away, and disappear, but the drawing’s real. We are the shadows.

Clockwise from top left:

Cut Hay

2019, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 in.

Old Hay

2019, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 in.

Pony Pasture

2019, watercolor, 14 x 17 in.

Clockwise from top left:

Cristina in Dickens’ Garden 2019, watercolor, 14 x 11 in.

King’s Cross Station

2019, watercolor, 11 x 14 in.

Evening Light

2019, watercolor, 14 x 17 in.

Picnic After a Visit to the Wallace Collection 2019, watercolor, 14 x 11 in.

Clockwise from bottom right, opposite page:

Flowers 2

2017, graphite on paper, 18 x 24 in.


2019, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 in.

Gladioli 1

2019, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 20 in.

Fall Hydraenga

2019, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 12 in.

Gladioli 2

2019, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 20 in.


2019, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 14 in.

Hydraenga 2

2019, acrylic on canvas, 22 x 22 in.

Vegetables with Cutting Board

2017, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 22 in.

An Unswept Floor #2

2018-19, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 54 in.

Simon Carr is a painter living and working in New York City. He received an MFA from Parsons School of Design, where he studied with Leland Bell, John Heliker and Paul Resika. Since then he has exhibited widely at galleries and non-profit spaces. Since 2015 he has been represented by Bowery Gallery in New York City. He teaches Drawing in the Art Foundations Studio major at Borough of Manhattan Community College. More of his work can be seen at:

Goya Study

2019, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 in.


Riding Lesson (detail)

2019, graphite on paper, 14 x 17 in.

Back cover:

Through Open Fields (detail)

2018, acrylic on canvas, 52 x 66 in.

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