In Lorna Simpson’s ‘Sonorousness’ (2019), the figurative and the abstract collide. The painting is an illusionistic depiction of an arctic landscape, washed with iridescent shades of blue. Barely discernible, vertical strips of text and a fragmented sliver of a woman’s face swim to the surface, drenched in inky washes of blues. A constructed image, ‘Sonorousness’ is one of a new suite of large-scale paintings by Simpson, which combine her previous pictorial inventions with extensive investigations in appropriated imagery. Simpson uses photography as a discipling structure in these works, composing each painting with archival photographs and texts that are silkscreened onto fiberglass panels and gessoed in colorful expressions of ink and acrylics.
Over the past few years, Simpson has developed a ‘preoccupation with ice’, and has sourced imagery of glaciers, oceans, mountain tops, and smoke from Associated Press photographs, layering them in a surreal suggestion of an imagined environment alongside texts and advertisements of women from her collection of vintage Ebony and Jet magazines. For Simpson the figures in magazines chronicle periods of time and expressions of self-determination, serving as a lens of American history. And real or not, she contends, the icy landscapes themselves are indicative of the atmosphere and inhospitable conditions of society today.
‘Sonorousness’ inaugurates a new approach for Simpson, who since the mid-1980s has continuously challenged herself to evolve. In the last few years Simpson has taken up the medium of painting for the first time in two decades, creating energetic abstractions that are mesmerizing in their opticality and painterliness. A powerful reflection on contemporary American society, ‘Sonorousness’ demonstrates Simpson’s mastery of paint and is an exemplar of her radical blurring of the traditional distinctions between genres.
Born in Brooklyn, Lorna Simpson came to prominence in the 1980s with her pioneering approach to conceptual photography. Simpson’s early work – particularly her striking juxtapositions of text and staged images – raised questions about the nature of representation, identity, gender, race and history that continue to drive the artist’s expanding and multi-disciplinary practice today. She deftly explores the medium’s umbilical relation to memory and history, both central themes within her work.
© Lorna Simpson. Courtesy the artist. Photo: James Wang