Why Simon Bull claims art is dead

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Colorist Simon Bull vivaciously infuses all of his paintings with life, joy and nostalgia, which makes it all the more curious as to why he has claimed “art is dead.”

Such a shocking statement carries a lot of weight when spoken by an artist. Upon further dissection, however, Bull’s observation actually points to art being full of vivid life and spirituality.

Simon Bull discussing his artwork during his exhibition "Language of Color."

Simon Bull discussing his artwork during his exhibition “Language of Color.”

During his visit to the Detroit area for his first solo Park West Gallery exhibition, “Language of Color,” Bull took in the amazing art collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts. He said the experience was “awesome,” but that museum collections are full of “things that were painted in the past” that are “no longer living.”

Bull came upon this conclusion when examining still lifes and considering the French term for still life art, nature morte, which translates to “dead life.” He says when an artist puts colors onto a canvas, he or she freezes in time those colors along with the energy and emotions they put behind them, locking them there forever. Bull proposes that when no one is observing the art, it is only “paint on canvas.”

The idea is similar to the thought experiment of whether a tree falling in a forest makes a sound if nothing is there to observe it. Similarly, Albert Einstein is said to have asked fellow physicist Niels Bohr if he believes the moon does not exist if nobody is looking at it.

"The Gift of Life" (2016), Simon Bull

The Gift of Life” (2016), Simon Bull

However, before falling into any philosophical rabbit holes, Bull offers an answer. When someone does view the painting, the energy and spirit the artist breathed into the painting comes back to life in the mind of the viewer. It is no longer dead.

“The painting is, in a sense, dead – it is an offering, but if you meditate on it [and] receive it, it comes back to life,” he says. “It infuses life, richness, beauty and peace…into your home because that is what I laid into it, but you have to pick it up.”

The idea of death or the unknown is not an unusual theme in Bull’s art. In the past, Bull has explained that the black backgrounds of his paintings symbolize the unknown. This observation came to him while undergoing treatments for cancer and facing the very real possibility of dying. This inspired Bull to splash, brush and dribble bright colors over the black as a reminder to enjoy life.

"Because Your Are Nice" (2016), Simon Bull

Because Your Are Nice” (2016), Simon Bull

“The black is what we don’t know, and the colors are what we do know,” he says. “Life is an incredibly exciting thing; I think that is why I enjoy painting, that is why I say art is dead, because art serves the living…dead people don’t read books, dead people don’t look at pictures, dead people don’t play instruments, living people do.”

Park West is proud to be a part of bringing art to life by demystifying the art world and bringing art to everyone. View the Simon Bull “Language of Color” collection here.

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