Coriolana Simon

Born in: 1945, USA
Lives in: Silver Spring, Maryland - USA
Describe your art in three words: Still life re-imagined
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Ancient Greek, New York University Master of Arts in Arabic, New York University Certificate in Architectural Drafting, Mechanics Institute of New York Bachelor of Architecture, City University of New York Master of Architecture (minus thesis), City University of New York
See More Work:

Still Life of Restrained Ostentation - Archival digital photograph

"I have long admired the still lifes by Dutch artists of the 17th century. Painted in a style as realistic as photographs, they give us a detailed view of Dutch culture and society. Today I create still lifes in the Dutch style as realistic as paintings with my camera. While never copying a painting, my visual vocabulary, approach to composition, and use of lighting all bow to the Dutch golden age."

What themes does your work involve?
A principal theme in the Dutch paintings was often a moral warning: Moderation! While extremely prosperous, the Dutch feared God would punish them for their surfeit. The window into Dutch society created by the paintings also serves as a mirror and gives us food for thought about our own way of life. In my still lifes, the compositions ask the viewer how much of the moral warnings symbolized in the Dutch paintings hold true for us today. In our time of plenty, do we harbor any parallel fears about overabundance of material possessions? A related theme is the impermanence of all material things: “memento mori.” This theme is reflected in a myriad of ways in the Dutch paintings and in my work. . My still lifes ask: How do we respond to the obvious impermanence of all things?
Describe your creative process.
Choose theme based on a key object or a style of Dutch painting or a seasonal subject like tulips. Plan “main actors.” Sketch in pencil. Gather the whole “cast.” Find unusual / special objects if necessary. Start placing objects on table -- the "bones" of the composition. Add lesser elements. Eliminate certain pieces to clarify structure and give cohesion. Create “sketch” shots in camera. Adjust, re-adjust, re-adjust. Wait for right light, depending on season or time of day. Photograph final composition. Do a little editing in Lightroom and Photoshop for highlights and shadows. A still life is finished when it is printed, mounted, and framed in a historic Dutch-style frame.
What influences your work? What inspires you? Why do you make art?
When I first tried my hand at still lifes, I looked for guidance from photography reference books and found almost nothing. I turned then to texts on painting to learn about composition. But this was dry and not often applicable. Instead, I started to study actual paintings. Nineteenth century painters like Cezanne and Van Gogh offered still lifes, but the 17th century Dutch still lifes evoked a powerful, intense response. These painters – Claes, de Heem, Kalf, and many others – became not only my inspiration but also my teachers. I learned their styles, their subject matter, their treatment of light so that now, as I work on a particular still life, I can sense them looking over my shoulder, guiding and correcting me as I work.
What is good art? What makes a piece of art great?
“Good” art is difficult to define and can be highly subjective. Nonetheless, “good” art touches the viewer in the heart and in the intellect. If a work of art is created with the artist’s deep passion, this intensity is communicated, even subliminally, to the viewer, and the viewer responds. “Great” art may not be universally recognized as such by all the peoples of the world, but it touches many people of many cultures across time.
What is the role of the artist today?
In a traditional sense, the artist creates “beauty,” however that is defined, and brings some light and joy into a world that is often dark and depressing. Contemporary art may also comment on such major issues as war, social inequality, or climate change. In my own work, which takes the more traditionalist path, one of my goals is to slow down the viewer and retrain their eye away from the frantic pace of visuals around us. I want the viewer to let their eyes slow down, to take time to explore a whole composition, every object in it, and the relationship – or “narrative” – among the objects.

Still Life with Ship Bowl and Crabs - Archival digital photograph
Still Life with Grand Tulipiere - Archival digital photograph
Still Life of the Righteous Pipe-Smoker - Archival digital photograph
Still Life of Distant Geography - Archival digital photograph


This interview was published by Circle Foundation of the Arts. © CFA Press ∙ Images are courtesy of the artist