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Gregg Simpson: Artist Doesn’t Conform To Mold

By ArtistsInCanada Interview October 13, 2002

} Gregg Simpson: Artist Doesn’t Conform To Mold By Paul Constable “I definitely don't do work "to sell". It's the formal ideas that interest me as much as anything. However, I am not a conceptualist. In fact my art is rather opposed to the academic school that rules today. That's a whole separate topic we can follow later, the hegemony of conceptualism and the near banishment of painting.” Recently I had an opportunity to talk to Gregg Simpson, an abstract surrealist painter, from his North Vancouver studio. I reviewed a large body of work posted on his web site, starting from the early 60’s. This was not meant to be a retrospective delving into Gregg’s art career, but how could it not. His work has evolved over the past forty years by what he sees and experiences. Even when he travels his mental sketchbook is at the ready; later back at his hotel or studio - drawings appear in pencil and charcoal, fleecing out yet an unknown subject. Not knowing what you are getting at, until you get there. One idea precipitates another. The larger oil paintings are usually produced later, in his studio later. Byzantium  oil on canvas  5.5' x 6'  1999 Europe has definitely influenced his work, not only from the rich ground work laid out by the impressionists, abstractionists and surrealists, but from his regular visitations to the south of France and Tuscany, Italy. After all, his work is about light and how it interacts with his fractured style of imagery, so why not go to where the light suits your pallet? Simpson’s work tends to have a thematic and somewhat lyrical quality to it. In his early works, his Celtic heritage evoked a mystical folklore within his imagery. The early years were years of experimentation, included frottage, grattage (a scraping technique), decalcomania, and fumage. The Terra Firma works utilize "ecoulage" or pouring paint directly on the canvas, followed by more meticulous over painting. The accompanying charcoal drawings, like the paintings, place small iconic objects or figures in an abstracted landscape. Fertility Dancers  oil on canvas  5.5' x 5'  2000 Simpson’s present work depicts shapes interacting on fields of saturated pigment. Always abstract yes - Surreal, but not in the way Salvador Dali depicted his surreal imagery. Caotic, high- energy brush strokes not only create space and light, but balance, agitation and viewer interaction as well. You can feel yourself moving, shifting weight from one foot to the other. You go onto the next the next image and catch yourself returning to the previous one. Can I actually see the transition, his thinking process from one piece to the next, you ask yourself? Simpson is not afraid of change. So many artists are willing to be pigeon -holed by galleries into conformity to secure a place on the wall. You can see from his site where he was forty years ago to the present day. His work is laid out like chapters in a book. One series of paintings makes way for the next, but always within his chosen discipline. Most of the work tends to be on the large side, approximately 5’x 5.5’ and up - not your average horizontal, above the couch oil painting to be sure. He was initially attracted to the Extension courses at UBC, where the best teachers from the Vancouver School of Art taught night classes. This was in drawing, painting and sculpture. Then he went to The Vancouver School of Art (1966-67) but didn't continue as he was already apprenticing with experienced artists like Gary Lee Nova, Jack Wise and Al Neil, a multi-media musician, who he played free jazz with and worked together with in Intermedia. Simpson said, “this all made art school seem like high school, although it did get me working everyday in a more disciplined way”. The Way Back  acrylic on canvas  4.6' x 4.6'  1968 From April to September, 2000, Gregg Simpson had three solo exhibitions in Europe, two in Italy and one in France. While Simpson has shown throughout Europe in over twenty group exhibitions since 1973, these solo exhibitions signal an exciting new direction in his career. Simpson's paintings and pastels from 1994-1999 formed his first major exhibition in Europe, Entitled: A New Arcadia, on view May 1st-May 32st, 2000 in the keep of the famous Fortezza di Montalcino a castle built in 1361 and the main attraction of the Tuscan town of Montalcino. Gregg Simpson was born in Ottawa in 1947, then moved to the West Coast with his family. He is one of two sons of pioneering Modernist architect, D.C. Simpson and concert soprano, Ferne Cairns. His career began during the 1960's when he was also involved in launching multimedia events and building his complementary career as a noted jazz drummer. Simpson is published and exhibits internationally with both the neo-surrealists and the Paris-based PHASES Movement. You may visit his site ( ) for a more detailed look at Simpson’s work and for links to his essays. _________________________________________________ Paul Constable is the Director of Artists In Canada. He is a Painter / Printmaker and Senior Graphics Designer for an Advertising and Communications company in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Paul Constable can be reached by email HERE. His paintings may be viewed at: _________________________________________________ Your suggestions for future articles are welcome. © 2002