Michael Simpson Paintings now on view at GIANT Gallery

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Michael Simpson Paintings now on view at GIANT Gallery
Michael Simpson, Squint 63 (2019). Oil on Canvas, 245 cm x 366.5 cm.

BOURNEMOUTH.- GIANT is now presenting Michael Simpson Paintings, an exhibition of a significant body of work including new and previously unseen Squint paintings. Michael Simpson Paintings will continue at GIANT Gallery until 29 January 2023.

A ‘leper squint’ was a feature built into the walls of medieval churches across Europe, allowing sufferers of leprosy and other ‘undesirables’ to view sermons while remaining outside and away from the congregation. In Simpson’s paintings, the squint appears as a narrow rectangular aperture placed high up on outer walls with various architectural means to reach it, from platforms to steps, ladders and rungs. In each painting, the focus point of the squint invites the viewer to approach, and yet the almost comedic inefficacy of the structure, through its size and positioning, frustrates their desire to see what lies beyond.

Michael Simpson (b.1940 Dorset, UK) is an artist whose practice is characterised by a purposely restricted palette and distinctive, artistic vocabulary in which recurring motifs such as benches, squints and confessionals are explored in ongoing series of works. While on one level 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.

Simpson’s works open up a set of conversations about light, space, composition, surface and colour. However, if we extend these ideas into the more abstract realms of balance, elegance, plausibility, belief and reason, we might imagine how each painting might become a metaphysical proposition. In Michael Simpson’s paintings, a ladder or platform is the only object besides the squint that it leads to, and this spareness of subject matter allows focus to rest on the formal elements of the painting. With the steps composed as if to challenge physical access, the squint remains a question – an inaccessible void rather than a tangible portal to a known quantity. Simpson resolutely keeps his viewers outside, staring at a flat surface – at what de Chirico might call the ‘tranquil and senseless beauty of matter.

In Squint 63 (2019), an austere mesh platform formed of fine black lines invites access to four squints, set high within a subdued composition of a neutrally toned wall. Through the scale of the painting – which is nearly 4m wide and 2.5m high – Simpson brings into play the idea of human presence, despite no figures being visible. Simpson’s paintings never include figures, however by placing the viewer at the scene, they are reminded of the potential of someone having just occupied the space, or about to do so.

The exhibition at GIANT Gallery also presents several new works by the artist, created this year and previously unseen. In many of these, we see the use of a broadened palette, along with more austere architectural forms, where climbing aids are reduced to their most basic geometry. In the painting Squint 80, for example, Simpson employs a violet tone and has shifted towards a geometric gesture towards the squint, in place of a more graphic representation of a platform that leads to it. Just as in previous works, however, the squint resists the gaze of the viewer, who remains caught in a place of frustration.

In relation to Michael’s subject matter, included in the show are two small paintings which address the image of a dead cross. In addition, 18 working drawings reveal the artist’s broader working process.

Michael Simpson Paintings is in part a homecoming for the artist, who was born in Dorset and who studied first at Bournemouth College of Art (1958-60) before moving to the Royal College of Art in London (1960-63). Further still, Simpson’s own mother had worked at Bobby’s itself, the building in which GIANT Gallery is now sited.

“Throughout the 1930s a young Lithuanian woman Named Ada Kulikovskiy worked as a shop girl at Bobby’s department store, now transformed into GIANT. She was my mother, and it is to her that I dedicate this show with love and gratitude.” -Michael Simpson

Michael Simpson (b.1940) lives and works in Wiltshire, UK. He studied at Bournemouth College of Art (195860) and Royal College of Art, London (1960-63).

Simpson’s work is in numerous public collections including; Tate, UK; Arts Council England, UK; Arts Council of Northern Ireland, IE; Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, UK; British Council Collection, London, UK; David Roberts Arts Foundation, London, UK; The Ekard Collection, NL; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, DK; Stuyvesant Foundation, NL; Ulster Museum and Art Gallery, Belfast, IE.

Selected recent solo exhibitions include; Michael Simpson, Nosbaum Reding, Luxembourg (2021); New Paintings, Blain|Southern, London, UK (2019); Selected Paintings, Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai, CN, (2018); Squint, Blain |Southern, Berlin , DE (2017); Flat Surface Painting, Spike Island, Bristol, UK (2016); Study #6, David Roberts Arts Foundation, London, UK (2014); Simpson is the recipient of several awards including the Arts Foundation Fellowship in Painting (2000) and the John Moores Painting Prize (2016) for his painting Squint 19.

GIANT, a 15,000 square foot gallery in Bournemouth, opened in Summer 2021. The largest artist-led space in the UK, it is situated within a historic building in the heart of the town centre and has already featured important works by major international artists including Turner Prize Winner Jeremy Deller, British photographer Martin Parr, artist-activist Kacey Wong, installation artist Jim Lambie and YBAs Jake and Dinos Chapman and Gavin Turk. GIANT’s exhibitions to date have remained true to its promise to be accessible, entertaining, exciting, challenging and open; bringing many of the world’s greatest contemporary artists to Bournemouth for the first time they have garnered visitor figures that rival some of London’s most loved institutions.

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