Photo credit: Unknown
If I could urge you to remember just one individual in my personally-curated list of 25 exceptional and iconic African American artists (and we’re only on #2; there are 23 more giants to come), I would urge you to remember Lorna Simpson. Make a note in your brain: Remember Lorna Simpson. Remember Lorna Simpson. Remember Lorna Simpson. She’s that damn good.
I don’t remember how I came to find her work—it was about a year ago—but I know that I have barely scratched the surface of really taking in what she is all about. To me, Simpson’s work is simultaneously minimal yet complex, delicate yet unrelenting, simply beautiful to look at yet full of meaning and nuance. I am so utterly blown away by the combination of her talent, style, intelligence, and sensibilities. I can’t really capture it with words. What I know is that when I see her work, a very visceral and powerful longing rises up in my chest—a longing to be one ounce as amazing an artist as she is.
A little about Lorna Simpson: b. 1960 in Brooklyn, where she still resides with her husband and daughter. She is an artist and photographer, often considered a conceptual photographer; she has often included text with her images. She also works in film and mixed media (collage with magazine cutouts and ink, for example); she has printed photographs on to felt (how, I do not know!). She also seems to thrive on repetition and collection: a wall full of lithographs of different kinds of African American hairpieces and wigs, a vertical line of repeated images of the same black woman’s lips and mouth; an installation of small, framed, found photo booth photos next to small, framed, abstract ink drawings, and so on. According to her website, her works “confront and challenge narrow, conventional views of gender, identity, culture, history, and memory.” Certainly many pieces expose viewers to the underlying racism in America, although somehow both subtly and with undeniable strength—and always artfully. Simpson received critical acclaim by 1990 when she became both the first African American woman to show in the prestigious Venice Biennale and the first to have a solo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art’s Painting and Sculpture Gallery. Remember: Lorna Simpson. An American Master.
African American artist #2 of 25 in my project “Have You Heard Of…?”
collage, and ink on paper
30 x 22 in.
“Ebony Collages” 2013
Twenty-five collages, ink and collage on paper
"7 Mouths” 1993
7 photo linen panels
61 x 16 in.
"Guarded Conditions” 1989
18 Dye Diffusion color Polaroid prints, 21 engraved plastic plaques
Overall: 84.25 x 148.25 x 1.625 in.
“Wigs (portfolio)” 1994
Portfolio of twenty-one lithographs on felt, with seventeen lithographed felt text panels
Overall: 6’ x 13’6”
1957-2009 Interiors (detail), 2009
123 vintage photos of African American women in pin-up poses juxtaposed with self-portraits of the artist in similar poses
“Direct Gaze” 2014
60 elements total: 27 found photo booth portraits, 13 magazine clippings, 20 solid bronze elements