Tuesday 10 April 2018

Lorna Simpson

Unanswerable, by Lorna Simpson at Hauser and Wirth, London

Simpson came to prominence in the 1980s through her pioneering approach to conceptual photography, which featured striking juxtapositions of text and staged images and raised questions about the nature of representation,  identity, gender, race and history. These concerns are reflected throughout her present exhibition at Hauser and Wirth and present the artist's expanding and increasingly multi-disciplinary practice today.

Ice 4, 2018, (ink and acrylic on gessoed wood)

In the Ice series of paintings Simpson layers the appropriated imagery and Associated Press photographs of ice glaciers and smoke with nebulous washes of saturated ink which partially obscure the source material. The smoke plumes signal upheaval and discord in nature and society, in reference, perhaps, to images of riots following police brutality past and present that Simpson has more explicitly illustrated in other related works. Barely discernible strips of newsprint allude to wider issues in society. Here, as elsewhere, the artist is sparing with colour; her disciplined palette consists of inky blacks, greys and a startling blue, contributing to an atmosphere of bristling movement. Deftly navigating the territory between figuration and abstraction, these paintings cut through the calculated glamour of magazine imagery with the brute force of the natural world. As the artist explains, 'conceptually this is in tandem with what I'm experiencing emotionally but also what I feel is going on politically: the idea of being relentlessly consumed'.

looking closer

Ice 6, 2018, (ink and acrylic on gessoed fiberglass)

Ice 3, 2018, (ink and acrylic on gessoed fiberglass)

Ice 5, 2018, (ink and acrylic on gessoed fiberglass)

Ice 7, 2018, (ink and acrylic o gessoed fiberglass)

Woman on Snowball, 2018, (Styrofoam, plywood, plaster, steel, epoxy coating)

An oversized snowball made of plaster on top of which a small female figure perches precariously. The combination of the absurd and the association of the expression 'to snowball', alludes to an unstoppable force that gathers momentum with the potential to slip out of control. For Simpson, ice has a significance since it recalls the expression to be 'on ice', or in prison, as well as Eldridge Cleaver's 1968 book 'Soul on Ice', written while Cleaver was incarcerated in Folsom State Prison. Prison is where one does time and is an enforced form of isolation from wider society. And yet, Simpson remarks, 'there's something about ice that has come into the work that indicates either freezing or endurance'.

12 stacks, 2018, (Ebony and Jet magazines, poly shelves, bronze, plaster, glass)

The found image continues to be a source for Simpson's work. Here, she incorporates photographs from her collection of vintage Ebony and Jet magazines from the 1950s to the 1970s. These publications focused on subjects of lifestyle, culture and politics from an African-American perspective and are credited with chronicling black lives and issues so sorely under-represented elsewhere in the media. The material has both a personal and a wider cultural significance for Simpson who describes how the magazines, 'informed my sense of thinking about being black in America and are both a reminder of my childhood and a lens through which to see the past fifty years of history'.

The theme of natural elements appears as a metaphor throughout this exhibition in the form of sculptural works of 'ice' blocks made of glass.

The stack of magazines are glimpsed through the thick glass cubes that distort the cover imagery and lend an impression of being anchored or weighed down. 

Montage, 2018, (ink and acrylic on gessoed wood)

5 Properties, 2018, (Ebony and Jet magazines, poly sleeves, bronze, plaster, glass)

Double Stacked, 2018, (bronze, glass)

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