Leslie Horan Simon

Leslie Horan Simon, Boathouse, 2002 Courtesy Fischbach Gallery, New York CityLeslie Horan Simon’s (b. 1953) solo debut at the Fischbach Gallery in New York City is titled “Emerson’s Eyes,” an allusion to a key belief of the great American Transcendalist:  “Everything in Nature contains all the powers of nature. Everything is made of hidden stuff.” Horan employs a restrained palette and finds her landscapes in the low-lying topography of Long Island, far removed from the conventional sublime of mountain peaks and exotic locales. But her reticent, eloquent oil-on-masonite paintings capture the numinous presence that lies hidden in everyday scenes. Common Mullein (2004, 24"x 45") is, on one level, a neat combination of linear and atmospheric perspective, with the converging lines of a deserted road disappearing into a horizon veiled in morning mist. Yet the yellow median line also suggests a metaphysical pointer, and the softly rounded trees in the distance wait for the benediction of the bright blue just burning off the early fog. Another wide-format image, Boathouse (2002, 24" x 48"), uses the same serene formula: signs of human habitation are acknowledged—another road, the eponymous structure in the distance—but without intruding on nature. Beauty is discovered not in the flamboyance of a sunset or autumn leaves but in sere grass and grey-white sky. Simon works very well in this color range, and some of her works—such as Stormy Sky (2001, 9" x 12") and View West Montauk (2001)—are Whistlerian in their subtlety. The curve of an inlet, a grassy dune, the perfectly flat horizon line of the water at Montauk are simple forms that shape expanses of gunmetal-to-pearl light. An interesting series here begins with a tiny structure in the distance, a few trees, fields planted with potatoes, corn and winter rye, and a big sky. Horan then seems to pan up until all we can see are treetops at the bottom of the frame, then up again until the foliage just brushes the edge of the composition (Watermill View I, II, III, 2003). The three works convey a sense of time as well as place or space, while continuing the Romantic tradition of sky studies best exemplified by Constable’s oil sketches. In the cosmology that shaped much of Western thought and art for centuries, the world was composed of four elements—earth, water, air and fire—animated by a more mysterious quality, spirit. In a deceptively simple landscape such as Common Mullien we seem to glimpse this creation. From the solidity of earth (a field, the man-made road, the rough-textured mullein hedge) to the damp mist hugging the ground and dissipating into the air, our eyes rise to the pure blue, warm with the fire of the sun. In her simple, distilled images, humankind is neither explicitly pictured nor excluded. Born, educated (Parsons School of Design) and still living in New York City, Simon is an unexpected ruralist. Yet she brings to her familiar stretches of unassuming countryside a glimpse of the universal spirit that animates the world everywhere. “Leslie Horan Simon: Emerson’s Eyes” is on view October 14–November 13, 2004 at Fischbach Gallery, 210 Eleventh Avenue at 25th Street, New York, New York 10001. Telephone (212) 759-2345. On the web at www.fischbachgallery.com.

American Arts Quarterly, Fall 2004, Volume 21, Number 4