Art Moor House in London inaugurated yesterday the solo exhibition of British visual artist Joe Simpson. The show, simply titled Joe Simpson – Paintings, will remain open until May 2nd and is co-curated by the artist and Elisa Martinelli.
The figurative work of the artist is inspired by people, as well as urban and sub-urban landscape. Resampling the aesthetic qualities of media like photography and film, Simpson’s language engages the viewer in a journey towards the seen and unseen scenes of real life; at the same time it captivates peoples’ imagination, asking them to question the subjects of his paintings.
The works displayed belong to three series: Musician Portraits, Across America and London. The first ones are a selection of works from a series of 22 paintings realised by the artist in 2010-11, which portraits singers and musicians such as: Brandon Flowers, Mark Ronson, Paloma Faith, Maxi Jazz, David Gray, Jamie Cullum and Ezra Koenig (Maxi Jazz’s portrait won the BP Portrait Award 2011).
In addition, the show includes selected works from a series titled Across America (2012), a project based on the artist’s coast to coast trip from New York to San Francisco on the famous train line Chicago Zephyr. The paintings, which recollect the memories and the studies made during the journey across the States, mainly focus on urban and sub-urban sceneries frozen in time; the images look like a film set rather than real life scenes and people are often absent even within urban settings. In these works the artist seems to find inspiration from the American photographer Gregory Crewdson; especially the use of light seems to be the key to read the paintings of American suburbs. If in Crewdson’s painting series Beneath the Roses it is the twilight that generates reflections in both the artist and the viewer, in Simpson’s Across America the light constructs the architecture of villages and cities, to transform them into ghost towns and abandoned movie sets. As Simpson claimed in an interview “Whether it is portraiture or landscape, my series focus on light: my portraits are side-lit, and certainly with the landscapes, lighting played a huge role.”
The other point that Simpson seems to share with the American photographer is certainly the viewer’s engagement in the artistic project. These images are only completed by our own narratives and imagination; the artist can only suggest the beginning of the story but only the viewer knows in which direction it will continue.
Finally, recent paintings from the series London – a work-in-progress started in 2013 – will also be showcased; despite the title, the city is only the background for the protagonists of these paintings. Differently from Across America, the subject matter here are the people represented along with the underlying stories we can imagine behind.
Simpson’s art has often been linked to the word “photorealism” recently overused to describe digital techniques of representation. Certainly his paintings are related to realism and especially to realist painters like Edward Hopper as Simpson himself has often mentioned; nevertheless his work distances from social scopes or representation of mere actuality. He is interested in portraying famous characters like musicians and actors as much as in narrating the life of the men in the street in London. The artist borrows a filmic language to compose fragments of real life that are reinvented into a different narrative; the element of imagination, as the capacity of seeing beyond what we see, is crucial to his work, as it used to be for Hopper. Joe Simpson manages to get more from reality than just what he sees, and encourages people to look closely and use the power of imagination to construct their own views and stories departing from that.
What does it mean to work with a realistic approach in contemporary painting?