Neurons in the primary visual cortex (V1) are often classified as simple or complex cells, but it is debated whether they are discrete hierarchical classes of neurons or if they represent a continuum of variation within a single class of cells. Herein, we show that simple and complex cells may arise commonly from the feedforward projections from the retina. From analysis of the cortical receptive fields in cats, we show evidence that simple and complex cells originate from the periodic variation of ON-OFF segregation in the feedforward projection of retinal mosaics, by which they organize into periodic clusters in V1. From data in cats, we observed that clusters of simple and complex receptive fields correlate topographically with orientation maps, which supports our model prediction. Our results suggest that simple and complex cells are not two distinct neural populations but arise from common retinal afferents, simultaneous with orientation tuning. (C) 2021 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd.