Maria Simonds-Gooding’s plaster-on-board work, which represents the greater weight of her practice, intersects both the sculptural and painting spheres. Viewed as paintings (i.e. hung on the wall), the depth of the plaster is not sufficient enough to make them truly sculptural and yet they are not paintings. Rather, the artist appears to use plaster as paint. Forms within the work are often composed of simple lines, delineating an area representing the land, yet on closer inspection one can see that lines are in-fact incisions into the plaster – they are cuts rather than lines. The work also contains little colour, though they assume the role of ‘painting’. It’s not even that they have no colour, they have their own natural colour, which is a non-colour really, just the make-up of the plaster which appears cream when dried. It is this host of contradictions that come together to make-up the practice of Maria Simonds-Gooding, the works themselves, resist definition.
I don’t feel any direct relationship between what I do and existing art. Though there is an unavoidable progression: the things all paintings have in common are paint, and colour, and some means of application. With the standard you can make any two pictures appear either alike of different. I don’t think whether they’re alike or different is really very interesting. Robert Rauschenberg (2)
Some exquisite tapestries are also featured at the RHA. I find it amusing that someone could go to Aubusson to have a tapestry made-up in cream and brown (mostly cream), but for Simonds-Gooding it is texture that is important here, colour would be a distraction from the fascia that make-up the thing. Though seemingly Modernist with her adherence to materiality, she would be viewed as distinctly anti-Modernist in her approach; she challenges the material, using it in a manner it would not traditionally assume.
What is wonderful about this expansive showing of Maria Simonds-Gooding’s work at The RHA is that it follows a timeline, beginning at works from the 1970s and finishing in a flurry at today; which is brave considering her recent works are truly stellar and experimental. The main body of the exhibition focuses on the subtle, but continual, pairing back of form in works from the 70s into the 80s, and on into the 90s. It is interesting to note that, as the earth-rich tones of the 1970s progress into cream-suffused sculptural works of the 1980s, Simonds-Gooding also erodes all vestiges of form, until, in the 90s/2000, the work contains very little at all.
It is this continuous searching for an anti-form, anti-line, or line becoming form, that we see throughout this body of work. The fantastic pencil works that are situated in a room with later works where the artist has begun to use brushed aluminium, see form appear momentarily, only to be erased once again. It would appear that Maria Simonds-Gooding wants to re-write the prescribed elements of art: line, colour, form, removing them all for texture. A sort of organic Suprematism*:
..a blissful sense of liberating non-objectivity drew me forth into a “desert”, where nothing is real except feeling. Kazimir Malevich (1)
Simonds-Gooding’s early plaster-on-board work has something of the uncanny about it; something biological and ugly, something that one would like to pick at. And I think the forms that remain are ones that the artist has backed away from. It is amusing (or pointed) that much of the work is almost impossible to photograph; the shine from the metallic pieces mean the light constantly shifts over their surface reflecting all around them, the plaster works hold no focal point of interest. This work has to be seen in-person. The undulations are too subtle, the work, too tactile to been viewed through a lens.
Maria Simonds-Gooding is one of the great Irish artists, and what I find particularly wonderful about Irish female artists that came to their practice in the 60s and 70s, is that they are all very unique, and have remained so. They seem to have kept away from the styles and trends of European counterparts, which is not something one can say about many of their male counterparts.
Maria Simonds-Gooding A Retrospective is on show at the RHA until October 26th.
*In his later writings, Malevich defined the “additional element” as the quality of any new visual environment bringing about a change in perception. In a series of diagrams illustrating the “environments” that influence various painterly styles, the Suprematist is associated with a series of aerial views rendering the familiar landscape into an abstraction. Excerpt from Prof. Julia Bekman Chadaga’s paper delivered at Columbia University’s 2000 symposium, “Art, Technology, and Modernity in Russia and Eastern Europe”.
1. Malevich, Kazimir (1927). The Non-Objective World. Munich
2. Robert Rauschenberg responding to “Is today’s artist with or against the past”, James Schuyler, ”Artnews” No. 4, New York 1958, pp. 46-56.
Image (centre): Maria Simonds-Gooding ‘The Bright Field l”, 2011, Aluminium. All images right belong to the artist.