Critics’ Picks

Two-Toe, 1988.

Two-Toe, 1988.

Washington, DC

Simon Gouverneur

Curator's Office
1515 14th Street, NW Suite 201
January 28–March 4, 2006

The genius that enabled abstract symbolist Simon Gouverneur to create a spellbinding oeuvre also may have been a curse that led to his suicide in 1990. “Mystic Logic,” an aptly titled exhibition organized by Andrea Pollan features four egg-tempera-and-acrylic-on-canvas paintings and twenty-four never-before-exhibited pages from his notebooks, persuasively argues for a broader examination of this underknown artist. Gouverneur obsessively examined systems of logic, mysticism, and philosophy, and his compositions feature heavily encoded visual matrices of numbers, patterns, colors, and icons—what Pollan calls a “structured aesthetic grammar of symbols.” The results bring to mind design elements of Tibetan and Australian aboriginal paintings along with the declarative alphanumeric images of Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns, and Alfred Jensen. The paintings are ordered, gridded, with imagery deliberately placed—nothing is left to chance—and his working method was equally obsessive (he ground his own pigments and worked for months on each canvas).

Typically, drawings reveal an artist’s casual side. If anything, the notebook pages (undated, but executed 1984–89) more insistently divulge Gouverneur’s ferocious determination to make “graphable,” as independent curator J. W. Mahoney puts it, a “philosophical structure of existence.” Unattributed quotes he incorporated into some drawings are valuable guideposts; some are maxims, others border on organizing principles. With poignant resignation, he wrote: “Art is not to please or entertain art is to tell truth, not because artists are the only truth tellers but because art is the rite† media to tell truth.”

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