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troy siMMons: urBAn concrete, huMAn coLor

Claire Breukel

Troy Simmons, “Untitled II”, 2017. Concrete, acrylic and aluminum, 52x54x3 inches. Courtesy the artist.

The aesthetic of shine, including sparkle, neon and bright colors, is consistent with Miami’s image, affording the city both positive and negative attributes. One the one hand shine alludes to glamor, pop-inspired creativity, and play. On the other, it smacks of superficiality, frivolity and temporality. It is within this juxtaposition that many artists working in Miami find themselves exploring the politics of shine and its inherent ironies. The politics of shine are seen in the fantastical botanical sculptures made of plastic, resin and found objects by Cristina Lei Rodriguez; the psychedelic vinyl and resin canvasses and sculptures of Gavin Perry; and the neon and light-infused collages, videos and performances by the TM Sisters that appear lively and accessible before delivering concentrated subtexts. describing the effectiveness of shine to seduce the eye of the audience in an already visually saturated environment, art historian and writer Tom Holert writes, “Shine is what seizes upon affect as its primary carrier to mobilize attention.”1 This is perhaps why when artist Troy Simmons moved from Texas to Miami, Florida—and into an environment where shine shouts to compete— he began to incorporate bright strips of seductive pinks, blues, yellows, purples, and more, in his artwork.

Simmons’ work is vivid and vibrant, but equally commonplace. He utilizes mundane materials, recalling building construction rather than traditional mediums of making art. In fact, Simmons jokes, “Home Depot is my art supply store,” which is why elements of his work, even when recontextualized, feel familiar. He repurposes and reformats materials such as wood, metal mesh, concrete and aluminum within a grid, creating a collage that exists between painting, wall relief and sculptural installation. Evading medium categorization, Simmons’s process is one of complex layering, constructing a foundation of wood, mesh and concrete into angular and geometric three-dimensional canvasses that give way to perfectly aligned rods of aluminum in which custom acrylic colors are poured—Simmons’ work as an environmental scientist lent him the skills to work with chemicals to create unique palettes. The result is cold brutal concrete meeting perfect strips of color, as if both the infrastructure of a building and its spirited décor are being revealed simultaneously.

While completing a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from Oklahoma State University, Simmons developed an affinity for Brutalist architecture and the Bauhaus movement. His passion for simplified modern form and order has been further fed by frequent travels to Stuttgart with his German-American wife Constance. Parametric design, which uses computerized algorithms to generate forms – maps, grids and systems configuring solutions to an idea – also inspires his work. Simmons process begins by generating 3-D renderings that develop the concept, its infrastructure and materials on screen. Then in studio, Simmons works from the inside layer out, in the same way a construction team might build the frame of a wall before adding decorative accents. It is not surprising that Simmons’ works are sturdy, heavy and hardwearing, making them ideal for large-scale public projects. Goldman Properties has commissioned Simmons to create a permanent installation across the columns of their office building in Miami’s renowned Wynwood District, and Bal Harbour Village’s Unscripted art program is working with Simmons on a proposal for an installation where Simmons’ love of form and color would intervene and transform the grey concrete underside of a bridge. Here, the office building columns and bridge supports provide the grids upon which Simmons constructs and destructs his surfaces.

Wielding a hammer as a blacksmith might batter hot metal or a jackhammer might penetrate the sidewalk, Simmons smacks his perfected concrete surfaces, removing loosened shards. Through this act of destruction, Simmons exposes the anatomy of the built environment below. His process of deconstructing the surface using spontaneity and intuition moves him from architect to artist. However, unlike a progressively degrading ‘ruin,’ Simmons forces decay. His action becomes an emblem of the human touch fighting with the process of autonomous production to find an alternative voice within a moment of destruction. This alternative voice is underpinned by the tension between shine arresting attention and decay questioning values and highlighting the dichotomy between old and new, the constructed and the human. As Holert explains, “indeed, it is the particular materiality of declarative shininess that we now recognize as a clear sign of paradox, as it is so often used to mediate decay and divert attention away from oncoming collapse.”

Portrait of Simmons. Courtesy the artist.

Despite Simmons’ emphasis on using methods and materials from building construction and deriving his color palette chemically, his overarching inspiration stems from nature, and observing nature to decipher human behavior. Simmons’ first degree from the San Houston State University was in Environmental Science, after which he worked as an Environmental Lab Technician in Houston, Texas, monitoring the city’s water supply. During this time he made art part time and developed an interest in elements of nature that expressed perseverance and a desire for survival, such as the parasitic plant Berchemia Scandens, which he discovered as a child on a walk with his grandfather. In the 1990’s, Simmons began to make sculptures from Berchemia Scandens’ twisted branches that on the one hand appear marvelous in their organic beauty and on the other exemplify a quest to climb its host to reach the sunlight, eventually killing it. For Simmons, this behavior recalls the cycle of life in the inner city neighborhoods of Houston, Texas where he grew up. Here, young members of the community often learned behavior of survival, at times participating in criminal activity to transcend their circumstances. Ironically, as is often with cycles of poverty, many fall victim to self-fulfilling prophecy of destruction including alienation from friends and family, drugs, prison and even death. The confining parameters of this urban environment dictate a specific human response: survival at all costs. This dialogue between the dictates of urbanity and humanity continues to fuel Simmons’ work today.

Troy Simmons work carries with it social conviction. He questions the relationship between the urban environment and the natural environment; he explores the meaning of color against concrete is an attempt to nd good in the mundane of everyday; and he uncovers experiences of human connection within the austere dictates of modern living. Holert explains “…shine is also persistently unwilling to compromise speed for substance, surface for depth, attractiveness for soul, effect for content, projection for stasis, inflationary wealth, success, and splendor for reality.” However, by breaking the perfect and pristine surface of the urban façade to reveal the inner workings of its construction, Simmons exposes a world in which shine and decay actively co-exist.

Troy Simmons is represented by JanKossen Contemporary, New York, USA/ Venice, Italy.

Claire Breukel is Executive Director + Curator of Y.E.S, Contemporary Art El Salvador and Curator for Bal Harbour Village. Among others, she has written for Harvard’s Revista, Whitewall, Eikon, Women’s Review, Function and Modernity.com, Hyperallergic. com and Arte Aldia. She is curator of the exhibition The Open House with work by Tom Scicluna and Troy Simmons at the Bakehouse Art Complex, Miami. She is an immigrant.

Notes

1 Tom Holert, Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle, “Politics of Shine.” Editorial for e-flux Journal #61, January 2015.

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