Simon Periton

Sadie Coles HQ | Balfour Mews

The word on Simon Periton’s intricate, often aggressively colored paper cutouts was always that their success hinged on the contrast between the cozily domestic associations of their artsy-craftsy medium—he was never averse to calling them doilies—and the punky, sometimes blatantly sensational choice of motifs, from skulls and anarchy symbols to riot scenes and the Ramones, which tied his oeuvre to that of the YBAs. But I never saw it that way. What interested me was how his best work made you forget both what its imagery represented (often hard to make out anyway, given its reduction to the positive-negative duality of the cutout and the camouflagelike elaboration of its cutting and layering) and the connotations of the medium. These pieces tended to reduce imagery to a support for optical effect; unashamedly decorative, their true aggressiveness is formal—in this, Periton’s work is more like that of Gary Hume than anyone else on the current British scene. You never forget, looking at those pieces, that cutting is a violent act—but what’s most cutting about these works is often their color.

Now, after more than a decade, Periton has changed his modus operandi. Once again he is using a technique more familiar from folk art than from high art traditions—although one that has been revived periodically by painters influenced by folk art, such as Wassily Kandinsky or Paul Klee: painting behind (rather than on top of) glass, a process known as Hinterglasbilden in German. Periton turns his work inside out in these glass paintings by using cutouts now as stencils, so that one sees the paint precisely where before one would have seen an aperture through the paper. Some of the works also use found photographic images as source material. And because Periton is using spray paint, he has replaced the sharp edges of his cut paper forms with edges that are more diffuse. Where the paper was insistently tangible, the image behind glass is hauntingly insubstantial. This is even more the case in a couple of paintings where the final step has been to place mirrors behind the glass, turning unpainted areas into surfaces whose flashing reflections break up the image.

Periton’s method also turns conventional painting inside out because, unlike works on canvas or wood, a glass painting is not “built up” but rather, one might say, “built back”; once an area has been painted, nothing else can be added to it. Given this limitation, it is surprising that, rather than simplifying his forms, Periton has complicated them even further by increasing the level of detail and, Arcimboldo-like, building up his images out of other, disparate ones. But this complication hangs on simple armatures: Six of the fifteen paintings shown—The Meteorologist, The Charmer, Foie Gras, Civil War, Bride, and The Love Below (all works 2007)—take a face or head as their motif: Always recognizable, it persists no matter how overloaded by extraneous visual information. Other works use the figure as their organizing form: an upraised hand with bony fingers montaged, as it were, to a vertical flower arrangement in Neighbourhood Witch (red curtain) and Neighbourhood Witch (yellow curtain). But not every piece pits density of information against legibility. Perhaps the most beguiling work here was Avalanche, with its absorptive, velvety black just barely grazed by traces of fluorescent color, evoking vaguely botanical forms one can hardly make out.

Barry Schwabsky