Artist's Notebook

Ideas and Influences: Adam Simon

Adam Simon could best be described as a conceptual painter. Based in Brooklyn, he has been painting and organizing community projects like Four Walls and the Fine Art Adoption Network for more than 25 years. Lately, though, he’s put community projects aside to work in the studio, where his ironically elegant new abstract paintings riff on the imagery of commercial logos. “I don’t want to just represent logos even though I think there’s a lot of interesting stuff around logos to think about,” he recently told Brett Wallace at the Conversation Project. “It’s about walking a tightropebetween the identified image and the total gestalt of the abstraction.” On the occasion of “Icons,” his third solo exhibition at Studio 10 in Bushwick, I asked Simon to put together a list of the things he’s been thinking about.

1) Fischli and Weiss at the Guggenheim last month (installation image above). That show made me feel good about being an artist. They combine humor and wonder with a desire to make sense of the world we inhabit.


2) Michel Foucault’s book, The Order of Things, made a huge impression on me back when I was still impressionable and I still think about his ideas.


3) Nancy Princenthal’s new book Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art. This book isn’t just about a complex and fascinating artist, it’s about a time when artists’ ideas and choices amounted to philosophical positions.


4) Writer and theorist Viktor Shklovsky developed a concept of defamiliarization to distinguish poetic from practical language, and his ideas also apply when you compare my paintings with logos.

“The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar’, to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important.”

5) My friend Cathy Nan Quinlan‘s blog Talking Pictures. She convinced me to post some personal stories by saying, “No one will ever read them!”


7) Kurosawa’s 1963 film High and Low. It’s an exquisite film in every sense. Unlike western detective films, which focus on the lone detective, in Kurosawa’s film the entire force works to solve the crime. (Image via)


Adam Simon, Missing series, 1980s

8) The Missing Children Campaign. The show at Studio 10 can be seen as part of a lengthy attempt to understand the forces that shape us, stretching back to the early ’80s and my “Missing” series. However well-intentioned the undertaking might have been, the Missing Children campaign contributed to a climate of fear in this country under the Reagan administration. My “Missing” paintings (image above)were a response.


9) Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. Kierkegaard uses the story of Abraham and Isaac to examine the irrational power of combining mutually exclusive ideas. Like corporate logos and abstract painting for example. : )


Barney Simon

10) Political activist and theater director Barney Simon, my uncle on my father’s side (image above via). When I moved to New York as a teenager we lived together, and he taught me something about authenticity. If you were a white South African during apartheid, there was no middle road.

[“Mr. Simon was a founder in 1976 of the pioneering Market Theater, a
bustling complex occupying part of a defunct Indian produce market that
became South Africa’s only theater with an international reputation,” the NYTimes wrote in his 1995 obituary. “He is best remembered for defying the law and producing works by writers who attacked the hypocrisy of apartheid and for running a theater where blacks and whites shared the stage and performed for multiracial audiences.” –Editor’s addition]


11) Life Without Buildings.  I just discovered this great band from Glasgow that only made one album in 2001. I might not be listening to them so much in a month or two, but right now they make me happy.


Adam Simon, Divergence
Adam Simon, Broken Window
Adam Simon

Adam Simon: Icons,” Studio 10, Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY. Through June 12, 2016. On Thursday, May 26th at 6pm, Adam Simon and Keith Sanborn will present “Not Pop,” a discussion of Simon’s exhibition and Sandborn’s monograph, From Nike to Nikephoros to NIKE. Free and open to the public, although seating is limited.


 Two Coats of Paint is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To use content beyond the scope of this license, permission is required.


  1. I liked this show very much. "Elegantly ironic" really captures what he's doing. Ellsworth Kelly meets Andy Warhol.

  2. This is a great show, at once fresh and knowing, the concept of rendering commercial imagery into abstraction beautifully served by Simon's razor-sharp sense of line, color, and scale.

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