Simon Allison is an artist who visits the wilderness often, and notes, records or brings back traces of humanity that he finds there.
In his essay, Facing the Wilderness, Peter James Smith describes Allison as “a peripatetic artist traveller in the vicinity beyond the post-modern… By its very nature the object maintains its old accustomed history, yet its presence now in a different time and place has a piercing effect. History is breached. This piercing is much akin to Roland Barthes’ photographic puncture, a term he used to define that which is extraordinarily noticeable in a photographic image.”
Deep in the forest, Allison has found something. Retracing his steps, Allison returns to this tree and makes a mould in situ, then brings this negative impression back to his foundry (one he started in Oxfordshire 20 years ago) to cast this memory wound in bronze, splaying the rippling bark. Through the fiery process of lost wax casting, these secret gestures become sublime, transported into a future perfect.
“The assiduous nature of the mould, getting into every pore, nook and crevice of the bark, has ensured the perfect simulacra of the tree’s gnarled surface. His cast is a pre-capture shot of reality, leading to a post-capture bronze ‘photograph’…” says James Smith.
The British Modernist sculptors like Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and John Skipping were mutually fascinated by shapes that nature produced. Their trove of found objects acted as triggers for the compositional shape and form of later work. But Allison (born in the southern hemisphere, Aukland New Zealand) forges deeper into the forest. With his work there is something else going on, something to do with fixing and preserving; through his sculptures he is unmaking then making things whole again.
“I am very gestural with my work, and then I use the age old process of bronze casting where it becomes difficult to leave your mark. It took me a while to find a way to unite these two aspects of my practice,”
This duality of process and materials, the transient and permanent, is present across much of his oeuvre. With his series Still Life Table of Doubt Allison interrupts the process of completion and time, by bringing together unlikely elements that bond to form something new. Broken pieces of wood are united again with lead, fruit is cast in bronze and left unpolished in its blackened state, sprues where the molten bronze was poured still sticking out.
Increasingly, Allison likes to leave traces of the casting process; so the viewer moves backwards in understanding and forwards in time. Sometimes he wraps the whole finished object up in black impenetrable wrap, creating a slick futuristic form, demonstrating that artistic intervention is emphatically about layers of the hand made. Whilst his practice is circular, in the sense of artists like Simon Starling with the carriage of objects across time and space, it is also the “physical manifestation of thought process.”
With Allison, the sculptural object itself maintains an aura of intrigue about both process and origins, a little like the universe itself. “What matters most in the end is the work on view: the sculptural object that we may - must - assume will survive both the artist and the critic or curator as authorial and authoritative sources of artistic truth.”
Roelstraete, D (2012) ‘Survey,’ Simon Starling