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Artist-Writer-Artist: dm simons

dm simons is a visual artist who also writes poetry. In an exchange of correspondence about this interview, dm wrote to me: "I hope my ramblings are not too oblique for you". On the contrary. It was clear to me as I read dm's responses that he had a very personal style, and a manner of writing, in which I wanted to intervene as little as possible. So, for your edification and pleasure, here is a conversation with dm.

Philip: You are primarily a visual artist, yet you also write poetry. Have you always done this, or did it start at a particular time?

dm: My whole life is been one of images/words, a bifurcation where they stand in for one another, exist with the other, without boundaries and are the same thing, become the same thing; each letter a character/figure, each word an image; images given to me, to us, that is all of us before we were born, in other words we yearn for that which we don't know but know. It is the yearning that is important, the thinking, not the either/or. For me they are the same thing. To be quite honest from the age of four or five words grabbed me first, images, perhaps a year later. I always thought or preferred writing to painting. Obviously, drawing as writing obsessed me, though even as a teenager I thought—as well as my teachers—that I was destined to be a writer. I don't think in time, I think in space, a sensed space. If this double life, this genesis of a double sun began, it began as the space of being alone, that special cocoon of breath and discovery, a decontaminated space.

"Bitter End', 2009, 57" x 66", pastel on sunset

 "Burnt tongue, singed words
Thoughts numbed, a grief worn hard
Of sparse woven thorns, draped 
Shroud snagged on threaded hopes 
Needled regrets of memories woven
Unraveled breath flickering, frost sparks
Gulping long ago threaded clumps, found
As this grey-green phlegm is spat from
the clotted lung, the rasp-burned throat
Splattered upon the cold gray slab. Scream 
Not heard long, that voice known,
Oval blushed lips pursed darkly open
A quivering body, quaked still. Quiet
Breathing to the gut, slaking of the old,
it falls;
A new season"

dm simons

Philip: What does writing poetry offer to you that drawing doesn't? Or vice versa?

dm: Poetry and painting/drawing are similar. I have been referred to as a conceptual painter—perhaps. The emotion and idea are foremost in my head. Each one of us has "habitus" which, though we are part of a field, makes us a bit different. I am interested in space, rhythm, words that convey what an image might not, an image that might have more effect than a word, to remove the choker from my throat, to breathe sighs of whispers, to get at the pith in another manner, to pick at it with another instrument, to pull apart the scars of an alleged truth. (I don't make art: I tell lies because the truth hurts.) Poetry, if that is what it is, is that instrument. The homology is the instrument for both, bleistift und feder, pencil and pen, the same instruments write, the same instruments draw, the difference is the intent, the shape, what we recognize as drawing, what we recognize as poems, again not much of a difference. To pick at the core and to orchestrate. Morty Feldman said that to be a good composer, one has to know how to orchestrate. Sorry to be oblique, but I find no difference. As I am working on a picture my journal is open on a table two feet away, waiting always waiting. And if I am in the journal writing the picture is always waiting. (We are a thread hanging on the barbed wire of lies.) The composer Henry Cowell, who was the inventor of tone clusters, arrived at his "Eureka" moment because of frustration. He had a sound and an effect in his head which he could not duplicate in the usual manner at the piano, which usually is the composers sketching pad. In this maddening few seconds of being boulder blocked, he smashed his forearm on to the keys, and that boulder was smashed into so many shards—that was the sound and effect needed. He also passed on the use of chance and the preparation of instruments to two of his students: Lou Harrison and John Cage. Poetry from a forearm smashed into an instrument, one never knows.

Philip: Your drawings have an arresting, somewhat unsettling quality - both closely observed, yet bleached out, as if the object or the memory of it is about to slip from view. How much do you guide or give free rein to the drawing once you embark on it?

dm: I think hard and long about each piece. Before I start a new picture I have to know the path needed. Lately there is a pitch dark nothing that has held me captive, perhaps, over the last two years. It is the dark space between the door and its jamb. So that is the pith. My work is not picture generation, it's probably a tangent or post picture-generation, trope. I look at thirty or forty images, whittle down the concepts to a few images, and surprisingly pick one that I was not intent on producing. Then I hit it, hit it hard, I wipe out all visual noise in the ground, focusing on the image, I want to make sure of its ambiguity, make sure that it is a fragment of a story, (It needs a better story). When Dante wrote his "Inferno" only fragments of Homer's Odyssey existed and it fueled his imagination into what rings of Hell to place some of Homer's protagonists. It was not till perhaps a hundred years later that all of Homer was discovered. In the same manner by dwelling on the image, that is the image as fragment, it compels the audience to use their imagination/memory to fill in the cracks, the missing story, in the same manner as a the restoration of an eighth century B. C. Greek Crater or Kouros that has been filled with plaster. I am not trying to be clever, I am interested in a certain emotion, a vibration, an echo of pre-social thought; again, all images, gestures, expressions and attitudes are a given, they are exhausted, impotent and need to be decontaminated, rehabilitated, resuscitated, perhaps given a vitality, a new agency within another world, universe or multiverse. I am just trying to tell a better story. The story is complete before I begin, the picture tells me what is needed, through a compression. I adapt to what I am told, what I am given. At the end it is a compromise and the story is a synthesis of the senses and body. There is never a mind body duality, the double sun becomes a double sun. The cleavage between the two suns is the interest. "One does not discover new lands unless one suspends sight of all shores for an eternity"—Vilas-Mattas.

"Crack, snap, woosh, thud
I didn't see it , I heard it
up those Inwood hills
a hollowed echo
if a tree falls...
I heard it, that last crack 
hard winter, packed snow, 
soggy Spring, heavy rain
trees will fall
some harder than others 
buried by Summer
splintered silence
Fall coming
I keep climbing"

dm simons

Philip: Similarly, if I asked you to state the first thing you notice about your creative process when you are writing, what would that be?

dm: Space, compression, fragmented language, sound, color and effect—all orchestrated loosely sort of the way Ferneyhough composes ("The New Complexity") but with purpose, with thought. It is funny with writing: at first uncomfortable with what is there, thinking it junk-pile scrub, I open the journal a day or two later and those lumps of coal seem to sparkle, it takes me a while to see beauty in what I thought was plumber's lead, days before. Within three or four pages if I can glean a few sentences or paragraphs, compress them into what I was feeling, what I was after. It is not easy, a tortuous path. Peripatetic in a certain way, a wending perhaps, but so it is with the picture-making as well. All the stories have been warehoused in my brain, dusty, waiting, when young, with impatience, a nervousness to get on with it, to overcome a hyper-inertia to let it out, not as "diary-puke" but as an existence that reverberates with the essence of what I am and have been. Perhaps now more than before that the time for sharing is now.

"-icide", 2008, 30" x 44", charcoal/pastel with stumping

Philip: You use words in your drawings and paintings, too. In what way is this similar or different to your creative writing?

dm: Again, there is no mind-body duality. They exist as one thinking. After "Vertigo Moon" in 2010, I decided not to include text in my work to see what happened, to see if the work echoed and felt the way I wanted it to, it did and that freed me, to realize I wasn't trapped, no one wants to set a trap and become lunch, at least that is what I wanted to be sure of, that I had not set a trap for myself. In the middle of the year I did "Homage to Roberto Bolanò", written in my own hand "There is no turning back..." and at the bottom a writing/drawing poem from his "Savage Detective". Roberto, in my opinion is the best writer of the last twenty years. That writing/drawing poem itself is an homage to the great poet Nicanor Parra. The next piece used the complete short story of Augusto Monteroso, a tremendous writer, "When I awoke the dinosaur was still there". It is supposedly the shortest short story in literature. I forgot the name of the piece, but it has a Concord jet in blur-motion on a blue field. Again the text is in my own cursive. I am giving away my trade-secrets here, ha,ha,ha, however what it reveals is that everything is connected, my painting, my writing, my reading, my love of language and images, my intent to tell a compelling story, to keep things interesting, fragmented, spatial. "Vertigo Moon" uses my own writing, which is obscured in the piece. I will send you the poem separated from the image so you may read it. The poem was written to go with the image. There is no difference in my writing as writing, and my writing though truncated with images. They exist as a whole. For example, "They'll come for you, they'll come for you" stands alone, however it works with images. I used it in three different images. It is not the length or number of words or sentences, it is not if they were intended to stand alone or incorporated into a picture, it is the potency that counts, the story, the tragic, the fear, the anxiety, the whole ball-of-wax as language, words and images, words without images that matters. I love it all.

Philip: Do you ever write immediately after working on a visual piece? Or pick up the pastels immediately after writing? If so, what takes your attention about your process once you cross over into the other medium?

dm: All the time, as I said my journal is opened a couple of feet away from the picture I am working on. I usually take a break in the evening and go to my favorite coffee shop on the Bowery at Bleecker and jot down ideas, for paintings (my good friend Grace Gaupe Pillard refers to pastels as dry painting, and she is right), and scrubs and scraps of ideas that might or might not be fodder for poems. Sometimes I can write it on the spot, usually not. Respite is necessary between all endeavors: I run 6 to 7.5 miles a day, four days a week. Again different rhythms, different activities but of one piece, of one mind, the cleavage as space but attached to the soul. Process is never important to me, the reference is too much about craft or being a good mechanic. I have great respect for mechanics and craftspeople but I am interested in the concept, the idea, not mediums of process. In fact I confess to be awful at process. These things called pencils and pens and pastels; bleistift, feder und Pastell happen to work for me at the moment, they feel good to me, suit my intent, pastel is fast, ideas flow, pen and pencil are fast words flow. Ideas flow. I also have a 1947 Olivetti Studio 44 which I pull out once in awhile, it is hard on the digits but is not digital and which when working produces interesting things. Eventually we have to cross the Styx, when that time comes hopefully we can let go, allow the change and row over to the other side, if we only would understand life and death are of the whole piece, there is not them and us, either, or; social patterns, patterns of process, patterns of thinking are not that different from one people to another, from one continent to another or from one way of making things to another. It is what you have in your thinking, your encyclopedia of mark making, yes technology and tools might look like they change process but only for the job at hand and the hand at job. It is the attention to the intent that is pertinent, the process takes care of itself.

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