Since the death last fall of Seattle painter Francis Celentano, one of the original, 1965 “Responsive Eye” artists at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Jeffrey Simmons could succeed the late artist as the region’s best geometric artist. The new watercolors in “Open Work: Recent Watercolors” go beyond Celentano’s rigid structures toward blurs and auras that contrast with the overlapping circles of cut-and-sprayed paper. As part of his process, multiple layers of paper are colored then perforated by the artist, and finally laid over one another. The differing punch-hole patterns create further patterns, some bordering on moiré.
The works in Simmons’ Fire Serif series (2016) begin with the illusion of a Rorschach test, each image split in half vertically with spectrum arrays of red, yellow and blue blurring to pink, green and purple. More so than the others, the Fire Serifs may be read as a frog (V), a butterfly or moth (I), an insect (II), bird wings (III) and a rabbit head (IV). Thus, nature is referenced obliquely, never occluding the perforated forms. Retaining the same multiple-element, central image, Earth Resonators and Mars Resonators (both series 2016) use darker colors from black to red, with vertical compositions of descending circles with adjacent smaller dots rotating in circles suggestive of ball bearings or gears. Faint gray ovals reinforce a smoky, industrial atmosphere. Mars Resonator I and II are a darker orange with larger ancillary concentric circles. They could be plans for a planetary lander. Larger Cadmium Resonator I and Larger Black Resonator I-III (all 2015) are slimmer, echoing Celentano’s narrow, sprayed plastic strips, but quietly painted, pulsing on papers with broad white margins. Larger Light Trap II (2015) and Larger Light Trap III (2016) are the most amorphous of all, layering multiple sheets of cut-and-painted paper, defying the strict compositions of Simmons’ earlier work, and employing smaller circular cuts similar in size to champagne bubbles, imaginary pastel microscopic cells—or lace panties.
The more complicated diptychs and triptychs, Amen Break I, Amen Break II, and Strength of Strings (all 2016) place irregular pairings of circles and triangles over white rectangles and squares. Mirror Rim (2016), the largest work, a six-part painting (approximately 28-by-24 inches), also has the widest palette, with brighter colors suggestive of necklaces or holiday ornaments. Despite such intense, narrow parameters, Simmons shows no sign of exhausting his store of ideas.