Native New Yorker Lorna Simpson has creatively explored race, gender and history for over thirty years. First recognized in the 1980s for her conceptual photos, Simpson’s practice has encompassed collage, video, drawing, performance, sculpture, and now, painting. Recent winner of the Getty Medal, the artist was the first African American woman to exhibit in the Venice Biennale (1990)
“As an artist, I am constantly challenging myself.” – Lorna Simpson
Referencing her long practice of merging abstraction and figuration, the monumental glacial scenes are ink and screen prints on gessoed fiberglass. The appropriated frozen vistas against the azure sky and sea echo with a bluesy foreboding – perhaps a metaphor for the disintegrating Antarctic ice shelves, rising sea levels, or the current American political despair. Bits of whitened background bleed through the textured indigo fields. In one room, the five large scale paintings reflect glaciers refracted in a watery abyss, merging geological ice shards with volcanic eruptions of inky wash. Newsprint splinters, visible in the other works, bisect the layered ice and whitening sky in “Submerged.” “Subtitled” is another seductive vision of sea and sky with typographical stalactites. Simpson, continuing her artists’ conversation with Golden, admits, “We are living in a dark moment.”
Ice permeates “Darkening.” Ice can be viewed as a symbol of power, a mindset of “chilling out”, or the “icing out” of the black community by America. Eldridge Cleaver chose the title “Soul on Ice” for his revolutionary 1968 book, “Soul on Ice.” The 14-foot sculpture “Timeline” is a column of vintage “Ebony” magazines. Published continuously since 1945, the premiere African American magazine, along with “Jet” has long been an appropriated source for Simpson’s work. Here, the yellowing magazines themselves are frozen in plastic, some price tags still visible on the poly envelopes.
“Special Characters” are a series of smiling women. Carefully arranged hairdos and lipsticked mouths give the appearance of decades past but tinged with a power that belies nostalgia. “Special Character #1” is a bisected woman, in a cloud of chromatic yellow, whose triplicate gaze captures the viewer. A brushy white corona might be a Sunday hat. The psychedelic puzzle of “Special Character #2 is an artfully made up and superimposed woman encased in a sapphire ice cube. She is shadowed by a cropped and similarly cubed woman with an unwavering ebony gaze.
In a stunning and subtle exploration of American identity, Simpson’s lyrical works offer cold comfort. Her suspended beauties – whether human or geological- are a lyrical metaphor for this
Ice Age of international injustice and intolerance. “Darkening” will be a welcome respite during the upcoming swelter of a New York City summer.
Words: by Ilka Scobie Photos: Courtesy Hauser & Wirth NY
Darkening Lorna Simpson – Hauser & Wirth – New York – until July 2019