Cactus flower paintings
art exhibition

Montreal artist James Simon’s latest series of paintings

It has been a long time coming, to paint a series of cactus paintings. When not in Montreal, I live part time in Tucson, Arizona, in the mountains just 15km from the Mexican border. Unlike other deserts, this region, called the Sonoran Desert, has a huge diversity of plants and is quite green. It is a beautiful country and cactuses that are found there are very much part of my life.

I see them more like humans, or at least sentient beings, solemn sentinels with a real consciousness.

Maybe it is my imagination or because cactuses have bulky bodies, I see them more like humans, or at least sentient beings, solemn sentinels with a real consciousness. There is a time in April when they come into spectacular bloom, but at the same time they look so unearthly it seems they grow on the Moon.

The prickly pear cactuses are like the weeds of the Southwest. The pads grow in chains with the parts all pointing in random directions like a connected family made of distinct individuals. If a pad breaks off and falls to the ground, it starts a new family. Some pads are very old, some are little tiny babies. So even in that way they seem to be like people.

cactus - painting by James Simon -

The colours of desert plants are crazily vivid. The thorns are different for each type but some are so wicked and robust they have punctured a tire on my truck once. Others have fine orange hairs that are like very tiny spines. These are not plants you can hug, no matter how enamoured you are. You would definitely not give a bouquet of cactus roses to your loved one but they are beautiful in the moonlight.

A relative of the Prickly Pear is called Devil Cholla. They root wherever they fall as well. They are the ones with the tire puncturing thorns. Sometimes they get you in the back of your ankle, even through your cowboy boot, which is like getting a giant syringe stabbing your Achilles’ tendon. As you limp away screaming in pain, trying to bat it off with a stick so your hands don’t get stabbed, they eventually fall off and start a new family at the scene of the crime.

In Spanish the Prickly Pears are called Nopales. That is one of the most favourite prepared dishes in Mexico and is even on the country’s flag. If you google Nopales or the nickname, Nopalitos, you will surely find many cooking recipes. Here is a video that will show you my house and my studio, and me preparing a Nopalitos recipe.

Video: Marat Apressian
Images: James Simon

James Simon is a Montrealer who lives on McGill campus. He has been a professional artist since 1965. You can see his latest exhibit at his studio, 3712 and 3714 Peel Street, which is a building situated about 100 metres off the west side of Peel just below Avenue des Pins, surrounded by the medical sciences building of McGill. His house is famous on TV and in film for its murals and magical rooms which can be viewed by appointment at times not concurrent with the exposition.

Vernissage Wednesday, June 22, 5 pm to 10 pm
Show June 23, 24 and 25, from 10 am to 10 pm each day

3714 Peel Street, Montreal
For more information, call 514 398 9098 or 520 204 5553
You can also visit James Simon website

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