Artist Profile - - NEWS - by So­nia Legge

Si­mon Blau is a softly-spo­ken, Syd­ney-based artist. The affin­ity be­tween his paint­ings and the phi­los­o­phy of Kr­ish­na­murti is a cu­ri­ous par­al­lel that finds ex­pres­sion in his con­cep­tion that paint­ings are a sym­bol of the work­ings of the mind. ARTIST PRO­FILE spoke to him in his stu­dio.


I went to the VCA (Vic­to­rian Col­lege of the Arts) and got in, re­ally, by de­fault be­cause some­one dropped out. I ended up stay­ing five years, I en­joyed it, and it was the Whit­lam pe­riod: free ed­u­ca­tion!

You went on to have 14 solo ex­hi­bi­tions with Stephen Mori, from 1981–2003.

At Stephen’s there were a lot of in­ter­est­ing artists – Narelle Jube­lin, Tim Johnson and Euan Macdonald. It was a good vibe, the at­mos­phere was in­tense, it’s hard to de­scribe it. I don’t see my­self as in­tel­lec­tual, but it was pretty in­tel­lec­tual at times! It kept you on your toes think­ing about the na­ture of art, what you’re in­volved with, and why.

Your work has gone Fig­u­ra­tive–Ab­stract–Fig­u­ra­tive.

I ex­hib­ited semi-fig­u­ra­tive paint­ings to be­gin with, and then did more hard-edge work. I don’t see there’s rel­e­vance in pi­geon-hol­ing ‘ab­stract’ or ‘fig­u­ra­tive’, I’ve al­ways moved be­tween both, it’s all art. For me, paint­ing is im­por­tant, in that sense of ‘mak­ing sense of things’, how­ever you want to do it. Anti-hi­er­ar­chy is im­por­tant to me; it’s not just about the ‘thing’ in the paint­ing. I had this pe­riod where I was cut­ting the cor­ners off paint­ings, then try­ing to sal­vage them. In my mind it was an act of re­venge on my thoughts about the art world. It was like self-harm.

Your 2017 ex­hi­bi­tion had some stand-outs, such as Lift Off.

That com­bined be­ing lit­eral with some­thing es­sen­tially ab­stract. I was think­ing about North Kore­ans fir­ing rock­ets; the bot­tom sec­tion is the flames. I was aware it was very ob­tuse, but I was still happy with it.

The horses?

I have a strange fond­ness to­wards horses, their in­no­cence ap­peals to me. Peo­ple make horse suits and put them on as a way of say­ing some­thing! I think that’s funny. They’re po­lit­i­cal paint­ings in a way, like the North Korean one; jux­ta­pos­ing this horse with the idea that the world is on the brink of a nu­clear war seemed po­etic. I liked the con­trast. In­no­cence is a ter­ri­ble vic­tim of power.

The noses?

That’s based on Pinoc­chio. His­tory’s al­ways a sus­pi­cious por­trayal of the past that’s open to be­ing abused, like ev­ery­thing else. I’m not overtly com­ment­ing, it’s just some­thing I’m think­ing about while paint­ing.

You once wrote ‘Like poetry, paint­ing comes out of the work­ings of the mind’. Is that still im­por­tant to you?

Yeah, that’s re­ally im­por­tant. Paint­ing’s a re­flec­tion of how some­one thinks, what’s go­ing on in their brain. It’s valu­able to let that process be­come part of the work. I’ve been in­ter­ested in Kr­ish­na­murti – a kind of anti-philoso­pher, who pre­sented that con­cept of chang­ing the world by peo­ple chang­ing their own minds. I think life’s al­ways mys­te­ri­ous, and that’s what keeps paint­ing in­ter­est­ing; you don’t re­ally ever get any­where. So­cially, there are al­ways at­tempts to im­pose or­der, which is meant to bring se­cu­rity to peo­ple’s lives, but noth­ing ever works prop­erly. Also, philo­soph­i­cally life’s just mys­te­ri­ous.

Is paint mys­te­ri­ous?

No. You have to work within the bound­aries of what can hap­pen with paint, and I en­joy know­ing there’s a lim­i­ta­tion to what paint can do. I tend not to be too con­cerned with clean­li­ness or clear edges. I think my lack of con­cern prob­a­bly goes back to my sense of the im­por­tance of dis­or­der, and a cer­tain amount of anar­chy. When I’m be­ing too con­cerned with or­der I know the paint­ing’s go­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion. Struc­ture’s im­por­tant, but not too much or­der.

Do you use colour for struc­ture?

Tone is more im­por­tant to me than colour. Colour doesn’t re­ally mat­ter. You can paint the sky red; it will make sense if the rest of the paint­ing is formed around it. There’s a ten­sion that’s built up of for­mal el­e­ments which cor­re­sponds to feel­ing. When I feel like a paint­ing’s suc­cess­ful it’s be­cause it cre­ates that kind of re­sponse.

Do you draw?

Draw­ing is im­por­tant in a sense, but not de­scrip­tively. As a line it’s just an­other ab­stract el­e­ment of the work. It’s im­por­tant for me to let my mind make the first point of con­tact with the can­vas. To do a prepara­tory draw­ing in­hibits that, in a way. I paint what­ever comes to mind as I start paint­ing. Some­times the un­der­paint­ing be­comes part of the over-paint­ing – that’s a re­flec­tion of how my mind works. The paint­ing is a sym­bol of my mind. I think about what it means to be an ‘artist’ ... I’ve al­ways had trouble defin­ing my­self as one, it’s such a loaded word.


It’s ro­man­tic. I feel it’s re­ally im­por­tant artists main­tain a sense of what the role of an artist is in so­ci­ety. The fact that you’re alive and you don’t know the rea­son is in­ter­est­ing. For me, paint­ing is a way to un­der­stand the mean­ing of life.

Do you look at other artists’ work?

Yeah, I love to, it can be so ful­fill­ing, and I don’t think you can be a painter with­out want­ing to. It’s part of the bag. I’m fas­ci­nated by vis­ual lan­guage that in­tro­duces a dif­fer­ent view­point about look­ing. I think about the bal­ance of op­po­sites when I’m paint­ing – colour and light, dark­ness and tone. It’s a fun­da­men­tal part of my process, and of life, re­ally. Paint­ing for me is a way of mak­ing lit­tle vis­ual analo­gies to life – lit­tle vis­ual analo­gies to the com­plex­i­ties of liv­ing.

Cour­tesy the artist and Gallery 9, Syd­ney

03 A man wear­ing a suit and gloves and lean­ing to his left, 2017, acrylic on can­vas, 122 × 101 cm 04 Saw the leg off a ta­ble, 2008, acrylic on ply­wood, 61 x 41cm 05 Screen Time, 2017, acrylic on can­vas, 76 × 91 cm 06 Cut paint­ing with rail, 2011, enamel on board with rail, 97.5 x 80 cm

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