Track 16 is proud to present “Vertigo,” the first exhibition of Simone Gad’s work since her passing in 2021. The exhibition consists of paintings and collage works from 2007 to 2021. This is also the inaugural exhibition in Track 16’s new space on the first floor of the Bendix Building, complementing the existing 10th-floor gallery, occupied since 2017.
Best known for her collaged drawings, Simone’s playful, brutal, and sexual pieces oscillate between trauma and eroticism. The pinup models and rescue animals who were her main subjects are treated with humor and empathy. Her own experience of being unprotected as a teen actress in Hollywood resonates through the work. Gad offered:
The pin-up drawing collages are like self-portraits in a way, and of my survival of sexual abuse when I was a young girl and actress.
Gad was bisexual and wanted to be out of the closet, but felt forced back in on numerous occasions due to the “gay bashing” in American society and the strong lines drawn by Hollywood to keep any homosexual relationships completely hidden. Her assemblage sculptures and collage drawings became an outlet to express this side of herself. Gad, who herself had done modeling in the 1970s both to make money and because she enjoyed collaborating with favored photographers and said she was struck by the Frederick’s of Hollywood lingerie catalogs and over time developed a connoisseurship of pinup and fetish photographers like Bunny Yeager and Elmer Batters.
Eventually, the erotic imagery of pinups began appearing as collage elements synthesized with drawings and paintings of rescue animals and sometimes architecture. Her architectural subjects, which are also represented in this exhibition, were the facades of intricate endangered architecture that she captured in thick, acrylic gestural paintings. The buildings that she chimerically channeled were art nouveau in Brussels and Barcelona, Victorian homes in San Francisco, and the Chinatown neighborhood of Los Angeles.
The energy in Gad’s drawing, deriving from her topsy-turvy lines, was in service of her irresistible love of animals. Whether using ballpoint pen, markers, or oil pastels, she kept her lines going and lifted the instruments off the paper as few times as possible which created abstractly spirographic effects. The curious juxtaposition of photographed pinup models and wildly gestured renderings of rescue animals forges a resilient alliance – a dualism. The viewer can plainly see how connection and understanding can lead to healing, which is what Gad was trying to accomplish for herself through her work. Being the victims of abuse and subjects of appraisal, the model and animal are stronger together. They are rescuable.
Simone Gad was born in Brussels in 1947. Her parents, who were Polish Holocaust survivors, moved the family to the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1951. Gad’s mother immediately thrust her into the entertainment business at age four, where she took lessons, auditioned often, and was cast in some small roles. The abusive nature of Hollywood took its toll on Gad as she experienced the dark side of the acting business. So, in the early 1970s, she gave up acting and began making art. Initially mentored by Al Hanson and Wallace Berman, she created assemblage, drawings, paintings, and performance pieces. By the early 1980s, Gad was making personal “combines,” or assemblages, that were inspired by Southern California and her personal life. She was drawn to perform but still stayed away from film acting.
At a talk at Track 16 in 2019 she remarked, “Back then you were only allowed to have one career or you were considered a dilettante.” However, in the late 1980s, she returned to acting and appeared in many films and commercials in the following decades. Her father, who was a tailor, taught her how to draw animals using traditional techniques when she was a child, but when she began drawing rescue animals over the pinup drawings in the early 2000s, her technique and result were anything but traditional. Gad strategically used pinups with animal drawings to celebrate sexuality and resist prudish Victorian repression, creating several complex dichotomies.
Gad also became part of Asher Hartman’s Gawdafful National Theater. She authored a trilogy of books titled Molested at the Movies that chronicled her life as an actress and artist. Gad exhibited continually in California for almost 50 years along with exhibitions in New York and Europe.