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John F. Simon Jr.

Unfolding Moments

Nov 15th 2020 - Jan 15th 2021

Curator: Hua Zhao

Project Supervisor: Elaine Qiu


As a pioneer of software art, John F. Simon Jr. has explored new media art and challenged traditional notions of painting and drawing since the mid-1980s. Simon’s way of creating art is quite unique: he starts with drawings and makes the drawing process the object of meditation instead of identifying a subject beforehand. He revisits his improvisational drawings—which he calls “divination drawings”—and reworks these ideas, often by programming. Simon considers programming as a two-fold kind of creative writing, first in the sense of writing poems or stories but secondly recognizing that the computer screen is where the program creates images. In this way, Simon discovers a world full of surprises and novelty. The meanings of his artworks are open-ended and imbued with possibilities.

John F. Simon Jr.: Unfolding Moments | The Drawing Room

John F. Simon Jr. departs from the artistic tradition of creating one-of-a-kind images in favor of crafting one-of-a-kind computer programs, each of which quickly generates a wealth of images. Simon, who makes drawings on paper as well as computer-animated, wall-mounted panels and Web projects, draws inspiration from artists such as Paul Klee and Sol LeWitt, whose work alludes to or invokes rule-based, algorithm-like procedures. Simon is particularly interested in the way that the visual experiments of these artists can be automated and accelerated using digital technologies.

——“John F. Simon Jr. Unfolding Object,” Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York


[Left] John F. Simon Jr., White Medusa. 2006.

[Right] John F. Simon Jr., Red Medusa. 2006.

Formica on board. 17 x 17 in.

Slide to reveal 

Simon explores different materials and textures in White Medusa and Red Medusa. The laser cutter makes it possible for Simon to create works of art that mirror each other but are distinct from each other. The name of Medusa not only recalls the vicious goddess but also indicates a type of computer cable sharing the same name. “Medusa” connects the mythical realm and the modern world, bridging gaps in historical times seamlessly.

John F. Simon Jr., Branching Growth, 2007.

Gouache on paper. 22 x 30 in. 

John F. Simon Jr., Unfolding Planet, 2007.

Gouache on paper. 22 x 30 in. 

John F. Simon Jr., Emergence, 2006.

Gouache on paper. 22 x 30 in.

Simon’s artworks deliver a sense of endless cycles. Contrasting scales in organic and hierarchical compositions acknowledge relativity. The vitality of life is embodied in Branching Growth and Emergence. Unfolding Planet conveys its richness by partially revealing what is within the planet. What is not presented to us keeps tantalizing us.

John F. Simon Jr., Earth Cycle, 2007. 

Gouache on paper. 22 x 30 in.

John F. Simon Jr., Diurnal Cycle, 2007. 

Gouache on paper. 22 x 30 in.

John F. Simon Jr., Phylogons, 2010.

Wall sculpture. Trupan ultralight, plastic laminate (Abet & Formica), flashe paint. 47 x 66 x 3/4 in. 

On Reserve

Some of Simon’s works have a dreamlike quality — it is not to say they do not look real, but that they do not have direct references in reality and are real in a fantastical way. The otherworldly atmosphere derives from his process of creating art. Since 1999, every day, he clears his mind and meditates by drawing improvisational sketches on cards. He can shuffle and rearrange them in numerous ways as he likes. When he finds himself enchanted by particular shapes and forms, he turns them into larger works.


In Simon’s drawings, overlapped and interlocked structures appear on paper spontaneously. It is difficult to logicize their meanings, but they imply connection and rotation, evoking the alteration of day and night, seasons, and ceaseless changes. Simon embodies his contemplations on space and time in his representations of phylogons, a concept coined by Philip K. Dick’s novel The Divine Invasion (1981). Fascinated by the idea that by rearranging phylogons — general principle or archetypes — history can be manipulated, Simon wrote in his notes, “John suspected there had been a shift in the universe when moments in the day began to unfold like a flower blooming.”