Artist Spotlight — Lorna Simpson

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Artist Spotlight — Lorna Simpson




#ARTWISEUP by SAL McINTYRE
JUNE 21, 2019 

For contemporary New York artist Lorna Simpson, the medium is an intrinsic part of the message. Although in her over four decades of pioneering visual creation she has broken ground in method, style, media and even subject— inhabiting a space in the art world that could be considered its own genre— her concepts fall into a neverending category that forges active questioning about the society we live in, and furthermore what the possible answers to those questions reveal about a place for humanness in an overly critical culture. She is notable in the art world and in the American legacy for being a black woman, though her important work strikes a sonorous chord rich with universal messages of beauty, honesty and a subtle wry wit which blossoms into undeniable charm.

Lorna Simpson – Backdrops Circa 1940 (detail), SIGNED silkscreen diptych 1998

Amongst countless materials innovations, a repeating theme for Simpson involves silkscreen printing her now recognizable photographic imagery with text onto felt panels, infusing her artworks with an indescribable depth. Experiencing a Lorna Simpson work in this way unveils the layers slowly— first the photograph and the subject shift into view, then follow the text and the concept, and finally a region of information that translates wordlessly through the tactility of the silkscreen ink and the fabric— leaving a trail of enigmatic mystery with which to waltz.

The result is a world that is both sensual and intellectual, full of swift imagination and leisurely cool. And in a tumultuous and continually evolving climate of politics and history, the indelibly inspired ambiance Simpson crafts in whichever medium she is working revives a spirit of hope and progress that are continually available to us.

Lorna Simpson – Backdrops Circa 1940 (detail), SIGNED silkscreen diptych 1998

A work like Backdrops Circa 1940 is on first impression dreamy and nostalgic, glowing with an enchanting retro charisma that only gains in momentum when you read the almost perfunctory text describing the scenes. Carving a space for someone to be seen by the simple act of mechanical description more than simply comments on the pervading issues of race in America, it directly surmounts the problem with a brilliant rewrite that is immediately effective. Simpson’s mastery and adeptness are perhaps what have carried her works into the spotlight again and again, an intrinsic measure of grace and attitude that work hand in hand. The figures in this diptych are of an unidentified black woman and of a fragment of Lena Horne, American singer, dancer, actress and civil rights activist born in 1917 in Brooklyn, whose career spanned over 70 years appearing in film, television and theater and brought her from the chorus of New York’s infamous Cotton Club alongside the likes of Duke Ellington at the age of 16 through becoming a nightclub performer and moving to Hollywood. This work exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2000 and is in the permanent collection.

Lorna Simpson – Backdrops Circa 1940, SIGNED silkscreen diptych 1998
"...and finally a region of information that translates wordlessly through the tactility of the silkscreen ink and the fabric— leaving a trail of enigmatic mystery with which to waltz."
Lorna Simpson – Recall, SIGNED silkscreen 1998

And Recall is based on a still from her 16 mm 1998 film titled ‘Recollection’ shot during Simpson's artist residency at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The film questions what is real versus that which is fabricated, and how memory is selective. Out of context of the film this piece loses none of its strength, somehow molding its own novel drama. Simpson’s work often presents a fragmented or open-ended story, which the viewer can complete based on their own personal narratives. Other impressions of this desirable Simpson print are in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art.

Lorna Simpson – Recall (detail), SIGNED silkscreen 1998

Both of these works are hand signed and dated in pencil by Simpson, and are serigraphs, or silkscreens, printed on thick felt in 1998 in very limited editions of only 10 and 5 respectively.

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