Thursday, November 19, 2020

Barometer of creativity


Michael - Thursday

Self portrait 1990 (Oil on panels)

Simon Stone is a South African artist who has been called the “poet of inner-city Johannesburg”. If that conjures up an image of rundown apartment buildings or shanty towns (informal settlements is the politically correct term), then it’s wrong. In fact, the one thing you can say confidently about Simon’s art is that it can’t be pigeonholed.


Diversity triptych (mosaic)

Just today, thinking about a blog, I found a 2020 full length video on him titled Imagining Stone, and of course, had to drop everything and watch it. Simon is a hard artist to understand – indeed not an easy person to understand – and I wondered how one would handle a movie about him. The answer is by letting him talk, and letting his friends talk about him and about his art. It’s a fascinating and successful piece of film making. You can watch all (or part) of it HERE.


One story is revealing. A friend came to visit Simon and discovered him up a ladder doing something to the roof of his house.

“Simon, what are you doing?” she called out.

“I’m standing on the ladder,” he replied.

No complication, no extrapolation – he was standing on the ladder. He says he once commented that he has no imagination, but his lecturer at university said “Simon Stone is the barometer for creativity,” while William Kentridge said of him, “He is the master of paint in this country, I think.”

Heavy Water (oil on canvass)


Simon was born in 1952 in Lady Grey, a small rural town in South Africa. After studying art at university, he married Giovanna - also an artist - and they worked in Italy for some time, and then moved to Johannesburg.  I met them there in the eighties when he was starting to build his career, through a mutual friend, Neil Pendock, who was intrigued by the exploding art scene in South Africa at that time. I was fascinated by his work and bought a few pieces. Later, as a wedding present, Neil gave me a the Stone painting of fish (above) that I’d particularly admired.


Later Simon moved from Johannesburg to Knysna and then to Cape Town, so I only saw him very occasionally, but I went to exhibitions and enjoyed seeing the way his thoughts and styles changed – maybe over years or maybe overnight. He became successful, with his work displayed in important galleries, but he never changed. In 2013 there was a wonderful retrospective of his paintings in Johannesburg that brought it all together. Some of his work seems to include a whole lot of styles in one painting. When asked about that, he laughed and said, “Yes, sometimes when I look at it, I think to myself it looks like a group show.”

Sometimes it’s complicated and sometimes there’s a fresh simplicity that is remarkable. Here his answer to Simon, what are you doing, might be I'm painting sinkers.

1 comment:

  1. Simon sez: "The whole is mightier than the sum of its parts."

    Captivating work, Michael. Thanks for sharing.