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article by Nick Willats (2017)


At first glance one might be forgiven for thinking the work of Simon Monk is 'on trend'. Whilst the existence of superheroes within the public consciousness is a concern of Monk's, the desire to be fashionable is not. The superhero is a fictional persona that has been popular in mainstream culture since the 1940s. Traditionally they represent the very best qualities of humanity (that is, if they are human) and exist as personifications of an ideal in terms of morality and physicality. In this sense the superhero is everything we wish to be and therefore everything we are not. However, Monk does not depict these comic book characters as powerful beings of fantasy, opting instead to focus on their physical and banal manifestations in the form of action figures. Equally, Monk does not restrict himself to superheroes, a whole range of toys have appeared in his work. Yet this is not an exercise in the use of 'ready made' art, for Monk painstakingly and accurately renders his subject matter in paint on canvas, a time consuming activity that subsequently invites us to meditate on such reasoning. Equally, Monk arranges these items in a specific way, often utilising clear polythene bags, string and door hooks to suspend, contain and restrain these inanimate beings or objects. Supermen seem less super when static, even less so when imprisoned by feeble and flimsy materials that even a normal person would break through with minimal effort. In other instances the lifeless heroes are heaped together like an old box of child's toys that have been brought down from the attic or left unloved under a table at a car boot sale. One is made to question the context that these play things exist in, yet none is provided and so memory and nostalgia are forced to conjure possibilities. 


The outcome is that these caped crusaders, monsters and villains are rendered impotent, for they were only truly empowered by the investment of our imagination in them in the first place. It is us who gives them life and meaning. They are like relics of childhood ideals and dreams. Fossils of play and fantasy, (constructed from fossil fuels) unraveled and exposed to the unforgiving and examining light of mediocrity and the banality of the everyday. They are evidence exhibits of the wistful and wasteful insanity of our consumer society. A world that spends precious and environmentally damaging resources so that we may have plastic injection moulded chunks of hyperreal consumerism, Made in China and cheaply produced en masse for brief amusement. However, the real object or even its photograph could be too easily glanced at and perhaps not studied and so it is Monk's focus and discipline as a painter, coupled with his commitment to such seemingly childish and valueless subject matter that demands one's curiosity and examination. However, as with most artists his practice is best appreciated as a body of works and when studied as such clearly displays a rigorous and sophisticated technical skill, a fine tuning of ideas and a subtle sense of humour.

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