Arts & Culture

Artist Lorna Simpson does life’s puzzles in ink in Focus show

The works of Lorna Simpson hang in a gallery at The Modern.
The works of Lorna Simpson hang in a gallery at The Modern. Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Like many artists, Lorna Simpson tries to balance personal and political elements in her canvases.

“My work is a conversation between me and myself,” says Simpson, whose work is being featured at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

But that is not to say that Simpson is just some navel-gazer with no statement to make.

“I have always had a political aspect or intention. I feel that as citizens or artists, we should speak about how we feel about things. That is part of being an American. The important thing is to not remain silent,” says Simpson, who is being seen at the Modern as an artist in the museum’s Focus series — an annual trio of special exhibitions by contemporary artists intended to expose new talent and increase the museum’s permanent collection.

At the end of each series of Focus shows, a committee at the Modern selects one of the displayed works for purchase.

The 11 works in this exhibition reflect that blend of the personal and political. The pieces, which were created primarily with acrylics and ink, have a personal connection with the artist as the most dominant images are of black women like herself.

But, in the current socio-political climate, the works can be seen as statements about racial and gender identity and importance.

It is not just about African-Americans, and not just about me being black. So I hope that those tensions and issues and emotional content in the work are transparent.

Lorna Simpson

“In terms of race, we have to remember there are many different races that make up the American population. So there is some shared experience there,” says Simpson, whose exhibition features some large canvases measuring about 8-feet-by-12-feet, in addition to more standard-sized pieces.

“Race should not stand in the way of the reading and understanding of the work. I guess I presume that the imagery I use is universal,” she says.

“It is not just about African-Americans, and not just about me being black. So I hope that those tensions and issues and emotional content in the work are transparent.”

Simpson has worked in a wide variety of media over her career. She is especially known for her collages, including a series of works that used imagery from old Jet and Ebony magazines as their source. So the works seen in this show represent a slight change of direction for the New York artist.

“I look at a series of ideas that I have in mind and, in the process of thinking them through, I end up in a particular medium,” says Simpson, who earned her undergraduate degree at New York’s School of Visual Arts and her master’s at the University of California-San Diego.

“It might be as a video piece, or as a painting, or a collage. I enjoy moving back and forth between mediums, and I let the ideas direct me to the medium I choose.”

In this exhibition, the black-and-white works (including silk-screened pieces) employ a lot of ink.

“I try to choose India inks that have particular qualities of density or transparency. I like the viscosity and the liquidity of working with ink. It’s a very fast medium to work with,” Simpson says. “This particular body of work happened to be very monochromatic.

“It might be a nod to black-and-white photography. I have worked in color, but I didn’t consider that for this grouping of works. This was just the way things came out.”

Simpson also likes the venue for this exhibition of her works.

[The Modern] has interesting opportunities architecturally, in that it allows you to go through these different rooms to view the art, but there are all these other areas for contemplation and reflection.

Lorna Simpson

“[The Modern] has interesting opportunities architecturally, in that it allows you to go through these different rooms to view the art, but there are all these other areas for contemplation and reflection,” Simpson says. “So long as people come through the doors, I think the rest is taken care of architecturally.

“I think just walking through that space kind of slows down the pace of one’s consumption of art. It gives you that space to take your time and think about what you are seeing.”

And, like museumgoers, Simpson says she needs a little time to fully savor this exhibition and what it means.

“It is so spanking, brand-new, I’m still chewing on this work myself right now.”

Focus: Lorna Simpson

  • Through Jan. 15
  • Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 3200 Darnell St., Fort Worth
  • $4-$10 (free on Sundays and half price on Wednesdays)
  • 817-738-9215; www.themodern.org
  Comments