Modern Art

Over the past five decades Simpson has become known for an ongoing series of large-scale paintings that revisit a small number of rigorously selected motifs. The artist’s admiration for fifteenth century Venetian and early Flemish painting has inspired a unique painting language, characterised by its austerity, use of repetition and a concern with surface.

Reduced to the most essential geometric forms, Simpson’s soaring paintings of ladders, levitating benches and confessional boxes, each reflect his long-held belief in the infamy of religious history.’ Often vast in scale, Simpson’s paintings have maintained an aesthetic position over decades, one in which solitary objects often appear to levitate within a shallow painted space, others rooted to the ground, casting shadows. These architectural objects, such as pulpits, confessional boxes, Islamic Minbars, as well as steps and ladders, confront existential and political themes, especially the subject of faith. Each work is painted with a potent economy. 

In the Leper Squint series, what might first appear to be a recurring reference to the black square of Kazimir Malevich, is in fact a geometric depiction of a hagioscope, or a squint’. These small architectural details (or apertures’ as the artist has called them) are rectangular or square holes positioned in the exterior walls of medieval churches, for the purpose of allowing lepers to see and hear the sacraments without being amongst the congregation. 

Simpson’s ongoing bench paintings, which he started painting in 1989, are concerned with the Italian Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was burnt alive in 1600 for heresy. Bruno was known for his vision of an infinite universe, and for publicly espousing Copernicus’ theory that the earth revolves around the sun. Bruno’s death, after seven years of inquisition and torture by the Catholic church, typifies the extreme cruelty found throughout religious history, a profound theme that has endured throughout the artist’s entire oeuvre. 

Michael Simpson was born in Dorset in 1940 and lives and works in Wiltshire. Simpson has presented solo exhibitions at Holburne Museum, Bath (2023); giant, Bournemouth (2022); Minsheng Museum of Art, Shanghai (2018); Spike Island, Bristol (2016); David Roberts Arts Foundation, London (2014); Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol (1996 and 1983); and Serpentine Gallery, London (1985). He has participated in group exhibitions at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek (2021); Hayward Gallery, London (2019); Museum Moderner, Künst, Stiftung, Ludwig, Wein, Vienna (2018); Limerick City Gallery of Art (2017); Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania (both 2016); Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (1999); and Serpentine Gallery, London (1987). In 2016, he was awarded the John Moores Painting Prize, having first been nominated for the prize in 1991. His works feature in prominent institutional collections including British Council, London; Roberts Institute of Art, London; Long Museum, Shanghai; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek; Tate, London; and Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.