Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Joe Simpson Profile Piece: Part One

As part of a university assignment, I spoke to London-based artist (and Rosy Glasses favourite) Joe Simpson. Here's part one of a profile piece I wrote...

Joe Simpson

“I think there will be moments of horrible loneliness, but that might make for some interesting art along the way” says Joe Simpson. We are tucked away in the corner of the Ritzy CafĂ© in Brixton, where Simpson is based, sipping on our coffees.

Discussion starts with his new project, Across America – documenting his trip around the states through paintings, sketches and photographs. When he returns to the UK, he will develop these into larger oil paintings.

“America seemed like the best place for this project,” Simpson says. “The artists I looked at, like Edward Hopper, include a lot of movie references and are quite cinematic. It’s that kind of art that I want to create and have those American themes.”

The project is being run through crowd funding – a scheme where people buy pieces of art that Simpson will create on location. Yet how on earth does he get people to part ways with their money for something that doesn’t even exist yet? “I thought that it was a nice way to promote it and get people invested in it early. I thought it would be a novel way to do it.”

Having already surpassed the target total on its very first day, it seems that luck is on the young artist’s side. Not to mention a busy schedule. As a figurative painter, Simpson has been working solidly since graduating from Leeds University in 2007, with a degree in fine art. “After uni, I had a few lucky breaks, which meant that I could carry on. I try and treat it like a 9 to 5 job. It’s the idea of keeping on top of it, trying to keep a work ethic, it’s not always easy.”

Almost There

He insists that he prefers to work in projects as opposed to single paintings. “I always feel they speak better when they’re together.” This explains one of his previous bodies of work, entitled Almost There. The series of 12 paintings also incorporate America and the idea of the road trip, but with the added bonus of a soundtrack. Each painting was in association with a different band; a song was written specifically, which matched the scene and mood. This culminated in both the paintings and audio illustrating the subject’s journey.

The paintings were deliberately left to show uncertainty about how they are connected, allowing people to make their own story. “You’ve got this one image and you have to think of a context for it; fill in the blanks,” muses Simpson. “It’s such a limited amount of information; I think that’s what gives painting their strength.”

In all of Simpson’s pieces, ambiguity is a key factor. It’s the sense of an enigma that he’s drawn to. By highlighting the in-between moments, the times where you’re unsure what exactly is happening, it adds much more depth to the scene. Or as Simpson himself puts it, “there’s a bit of mystery to it and it means something to different people. It captures a bit of a mood. I think it’s more powerful if it’s ambiguous.”

The paintings itself are dramatic, in the sense that high-key lighting is often featured. Always using oil paints, the pieces are almost like photographs; as they could be stills taken from a feature film.

Check out part two here

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