Sunday, 6 May 2012

Joe Simpson Profile Piece: Part Two

Musician Portraits, featuring Justin Young of The Vaccines

The cinematic pieces present in Almost There aren’t all that Simpson can do. His most successful undertaking is undoubtedly the Musician Portraits series, last year. The collection of paintings were of 22 musicians – all of which Simpson was a big fan of. “I had to use some serious Google skills and write persuasive emails. It was often hard getting around management and to ask the musicians directly.”

Throughout the process of getting in touch with his subjects, Simpson came across a pleasant surprise. “I went to see Newton Faulkner at his house and hung out with him for a little bit,” he says. “His heavily pregnant girlfriend came in and I realised that I used to sit next to her at college. I haven’t spoken to her, so I had no idea there was any connection. It was quite surreal.”

Originally the exhibition was held at a pop-up gallery, in Soho. Now it’s going to be shown at the Royal Albert Hall later this year. When I ask him how this opportunity came about, he answers that he was lucky as “somebody from the Royal Albert Hall just happened to pass and had a look - they were really keen for it and they’re going to put it on.” The opening night of the exhibition is even going to include a spoken word session from musician (and one of the subjects) Scroobius Pip.

Whilst waiting for the space in Soho to be ready, Simpson wasted no time and started another project, Everything Is Electrified. He decided to use the obscure subject of pylons – an intentional choice, in order to be able to use minimal source material and no sitters. “I’ve always been interested in bold skies and clouds and started to make landscapes,” adds Simpson. “I wanted to contrast the sprawling natural shapes of the skies with straight, formal and rigid imagery – I want these grand skies, punctuated by these manmade structures. They feel quite cinematic – like they appear in a Spielberg movie.”

Everything Is Electrified

Despite the reaction to Everything Is Electrified as being “oddly positive”, Simpson’s strengths lie in people. His Tumblr website, The Mistakes We Knew We Were Making, is used as “a way of logging images that interest me in some way; to keep as an almost scrapbook.” These images are mostly of people in a melancholy state. It’s this kind of feeling that usually drives Simpson’s work. “It’s a mood that keeps the journey interesting and I think that pain kind of works well within images,” he answers. “You know, because paintings are still and there’s a long time to create it. I think it just fits with the medium. Being slow and measured and just kind of drawn out, it speaks to the process a bit more.”

By always relying on heavyhearted emotions for his art, Simpson looks for light relief in his side projects. “I’m doing little bits and bobs. I’m working on something for a Scroobius Pip t-shirt, painting a portrait of a model - Nina Kenny. I’m also working on a TV advert and making a short film, called Elliot.

With just under two months left until he leaves for America, does Simpson have any plans on a project to follow? “No, I think that [Across America] will take a considerable amount of time. When I worked on a commission for P&O, I went to New York for 3 days and took loads of photographs. Those kept me painting for at least 6/7 months,” recalls Simpson. “I think it’s good to have a bit of a break and a step back and think.”

Check out Joe's work here

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