LIMBO = Living Is My Best Option
16 Feb–23 Mar 2024
LIMBO = Living Is My Best Option
For Taylor Simmons, painting is a process and a way of processing: a meditative means of moving with and through a composition. He doesn’t always know how a painting will look, or what it will be about, until it emerges of its own accord. This introspective exercise is reflected concurrently in the figures he paints, who are often alone, inert, and seemingly deep in thought. Processing is a biological function—it’s how our brains collect sensory inputs from the world then integrate, direct, and store that information in our bodies. Like the popular cliché, “trust the process,” it can be very difficult to see an end or outcome while you’re still in the middle.
The show’s title—“LIMBO = Living Is My Best Option”—points directly to that place of suspension while also working as an anacronym, à la Young Thug, who in the court proceedings of an ongoing RICO case has likewise revealed the abbreviations behind several of his monikers, such as THUG = Truly Humble Under God. In Christianity, limbo is where the spirit waits between birth and baptism, death and the promise of eternal life.
Simmons paints from reference images, mostly photographs. During a prolonged hospital stay after a biking accident a few summers ago, he became obsessed with social media archive pages and their rarified glimpses into the past; as many are crowdsourced, they’re able to collect pictures and stories otherwise discarded by mainstream documentation. He was particularly captivated by the lost imageries of Black and brown people living in urban America in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s: decades that charted tremendously creative local subcultures, the ascension and explosion of Hip Hop, the crack epidemic, and the war on drugs. This history’s palpable influence has shaped every corner of popular culture and the photos Simmons is drawn to infuse it with the gestures and textures of everyday life, which he carefully transcribes and memorializes in the grand format of the painter’s tableau. His scale and big, bold brushwork mirrors the bodily gesticulating of Abstract Expressionism and the palettes of Willem de Kooning and Arshile Gorky, except that Simmons is always unapologetically figurative and sometimes specifically referential.
Of the twelve paintings in “LIMBO,” some are based on pictures Simmons saw online and some are based on pictures he took himself. In Pull-A-Part, a gleaming ’80s Chevrolet Monte Carlo stretches across the panels of a triptych. Like Moses from the Mountaintop is a cropped portrait of a softly smiling DJ Screw based on a photo by Ben Tecumseh DeSoto and quickly recognizable from his haircut’s spiraling buzz design. Up First, from a photo Simmons took near where he lives Brooklyn, depicts a man sitting on an overturned yellow newspaper box, looking at his hands.
Born in Atlanta and raised in rural Georgia, Simmons finds a lot to look at in the surrealism of city life, which, if you really pay attention, is full of its own preternatural poetry. He is less holistically detail oriented than he is diligently selective. His portraits express a deep appreciation for style, but not to be confused with fashion: style in the sense of the language of love-for-self; style in the sense of dignity. Most of his subjects are men. When taking his own photos, he points to the neighborhood personalities you can count on running into on particular blocks or park benches. The guys who always say good morning first and whose meticulous daily ensembles trace a candy hue from the brim of their fitted to the tread on their immaculate Air Force 1s—which are probably as old as you and have been lovingly polished and placed in their original box between wears.
Aging men are the loneliest people in our society, he tells me, stifled by the enculturation of patriarchy’s competitive and isolating hierarchies. But these characters, for Simmons, are an understudied archetype deserving of the tender reverence of observation. His art plays out in the acts of witness and reflection. “I see myself in every one of my paintings,” he says. These portraits do more than record likeness—they make myths, too.