Michael Simpson, New Paintings, is the artist’s first solo exhibition at the London gallery. Simpson presents a significant body of new work including a group of large-scale Squint paintings.
Michael Simpson (b.1940 Dorset, UK) is an artist whose work is characterised by a reduced palette and a distinctive vocabulary of ‘Benches’, ‘Confessionals’ and ‘Squints’, three motifs that appear in three separate series of paintings. Whilst Simpson’s apparent subject is the infamy of religious history and the politics of belief, these subjective references provide only a subtext for his principal subject: the mechanics of painting.
A ‘leper squint’ is a feature built into the walls of medieval churches which allowed sufferers of leprosy and other ‘undesirables’ to view sermons while remaining outside. In Simpson’s paintings the squint appears as a rectangular aperture placed high up on outer walls with various architectural means to reach it. They invite the viewer to approach yet their structure frustrates the desire to see what might lie beyond.
Squint 62 (2019) is a subdued composition of greys and blacks. Fine black lines form a mesh platform from which to access four squints set into a solid grey wall. Whilst there are never any figures in Simpson’s paintings, the size of work, which spans five metres, is an example of how he uses scale to bring the idea of human presence into play – placing the viewer at the scene, reminding them of the possibility that someone could have occupied the space or may be about to do so. How a flat surface conjures the illusion of space and ‘making a painting work – making it plausible’1 so that it is coherent is Simpson’s primary concern. In Squint 64 (2019) the artist’s precise capturing of objects, light and shadow combine to give the painting austerity and balance.
‘Despite his restricted colour palette Simpson nevertheless evokes a variety of materials …’ 2 in Confessional 6 (2019) the few elements: confessional box, folding metal door and rectangular shadows form a composition that alludes to the same ‘seeing/not seeing’ dichotomy suggested by the squints. As Jennifer Sliwka writes, ‘These are works whose subjects and treatment are entirely about the act of seeing or, perhaps more accurately, the inability to see.’ 3
A new publication Michael Simpson: Paintings and Drawings 1989-2019 will accompany the exhibition and includes essays by Barry Schwabsky, Jennifer Sliwka and Mark Wallinger.
Simpson’s work is part of Slow Painting, a Hayward Gallery Touring exhibition of contemporary British painting which opens in Leeds in October and tours to venues across the UK.
1Between, Risking Enchantment by Mark Wallinger ;
2Beginning Again by Barry Schwabsky and 3 Illusive and elusive: the (im)possibility of seeing in Michael Simpson’s flat surface paintings by Jennifer Sliwka, all from Michael Simpson: Paintings and Drawings 1989-2019, Blain|Southern