A massive mosaic of music posters past makes up Gary Simmons’ new show at the Anthony Meier Fine Arts (AMFA) gallery in San Francisco. Simmons has papered the walls of the gallery entirely in the over-saturated colors and loud fonts of fly posters from bands, DJs, and clubs from the heydays of punk, hip-hop, reggae, dub, and rap.
“A lot of these are found images and things that I have collected over the years,” Simmons tells The Creators Project. His method of collection varies greatly, from tearing down posters and scavenging through Swap Meets, to trolling the internet and capturing the images on camera. “I scan them and manipulate them: replacing this, obscuring that, creating an abstraction,” he explains. He then saturates the colors and prints the new images onto high pigment paper so that the faded oranges of a Butthole Surfers poster burn bright and the dull blacks of an Agnostic Fronts bill smolder with renewed angst.
“Then, I rip and tear [the posters],” Simmons continues, “and as you place one torn poster over another, that layering creates a whole new image and the references are remixed again.” In this manner, Simmons acts as a kind of mashup artist in his own right. In fact, “I used to think of myself as a sort of visual DJ," the artist confesses, "occasioning things from different places and recontextualizing and putting things next to each other to mash them together." As he explains further, "Hip-hop, early hip-hop, really affects a lot of the work that I do, because of the way that DJs would sample and pull from many different genres from local sound to dance music or what have you. There was no problem with taking, for instance, a sample from a Patsy Cline and putting it next to Johnny Cash and flipping that against Sly & The Family Stone.”
Characteristic of much of his previous work, Simmons’ San Francisco show is deeply site-specific—as much in content as in form. He has taken full advantage of the unique beauty of AMFA’s gallery which, at any estimation, is far from the average exhibition venue. It is “kind of like a mash-up" in itself, Simmons says: part townhouse, part art space. The gallery spans the ground floor of a early 20th century mansion, with curving bay windows, high ceilings, and a grand fireplace. All these elements Simmons has mobilized to highlight the gleeful contrast between the show and the space. “Ordinarily, you’re working in a white box in the museum or the gallery and there is a sort of sterile nature to it. You could be almost anywhere. But in that particular space, it gives you the feeling of what it would be like in somebody’s home.”
As with his other poster-centric projects—such as this one in London or his 2014 show in his hometown of New York—Simmons has chosen largely from local bands, DJs, and clubs; Bay Area mainstays like The Dead Kennedys and Knockout. The artist does this so that the experience of his work is as much a part of the collective memory of the place as the bands and venues themselves. Afterall, Simmons sees his work as an exercise of recollection for both him and his audience. “Almost all of my work deals with memory and the reconstruction of memory,” he says, “the place where representation and abstraction come together, where there is a blurring between the two. The place where you fill in the gaps with your own experience.”
After listening to Simmons speak about the show, the space, and these bands with such apparent reverence for the past, I have to ask: is he ever worried about becoming too nostalgic? “I try to stay away from nostalgia. It’s hard, because you walk a very fine line,” he replies. “I think that nostalgia is a longing for something in the past — it airs more on the romantic side. Although I do deal with romantic imagery, I try to remove my immediate experience from the work that I am making. I like to open it up for the viewer to have their own experience or recall their own experience.”
Gary Simmons' show at Anthony Meier Fine Arts gallery in San Francisco is open until July 15. Find more about the show here.