Robert Simpson

2017 Exhibition - Skinfield

24 June - 17 July 2017

View Robert Simpson's 2017 Exhibition


For those familiar with the work of Robert Simpson, these new paintings may seem a stark departure. An acclaimed realist landscape painter at the beginning of his artistic career, he more recently moved to visual metaphor and symbolism to convey his concern at the destructive relationship between mankind and nature. He has rarely, if ever, painted the human figure.

In this exhibition, he has done nothing but that. Titled ‘Skinfield’, the paintings show a topography of human flesh without end. It is the beauty of the paintings and their soft gradations of tone and mesmerising organic lines that I notice first, before realising what they depict. By removing obvious reference points, and because the flesh encompasses the whole pictorial space, the bodies are abstracted; hinting at, yet not explicit in, their functional or sexual connotations. We are robbed of the chance to personalise them, or to critique them as we do our own naked bodies in the mirror. Without objectification, functionality, personality or judgement, we are left with just skin, just flesh. Overwhelming masses of it.
The implications are manifold. As with Simpson’s previous work, this is layered with symbolism and meaning, and his primary concern is with the environment and our imbalanced relationship with it. The paintings are of flesh at its prime. They are also — at least it seems they are — all female bodies. Youthful, plump, fecund, ripe. Painted by a male artist, they hint at male desire, yet disallow objectification in the abstraction of their cropping, their ambiguity. This is human sexuality en masse, and thus it leaves the realm of individual lust, and becomes instead about reproduction on the most basic of biological levels. Over-reproduction, for the folds of skin undulate ceaselessly with no horizon, consuming the entire canvas. These works are indeed more than skin-deep, for they are a comment on the current population crisis and the effects of human overpopulation on nature.

In ‘The Practice of the Wild’, Gary Snyder traces the etymology of the word nature: it comes “from Latin natura, “birth, constitution, character, course of things” — ultimately from nasci, to be born. So we have nation, natal, native, pregnant.” Nature is, at its roots, about birth. It is when this is out of balance that it becomes destructive. Simpson manages to capture both the beauty of the human body and this potential for disaster through over-reproduction. He gives us a key too, for redemption.
In an article by Dr. Mokusen Miyuki, published in ‘A Testament to the Wilderness’ (1985), he calls for the balancing of the yang control function of machines with the yin harmony function of the feminine, stating that “if we are not to destroy ourselves as a result of the inhuman operation of the technocratic machine, we must cultivate the feminine functioning of the ego”. This is knowledge reflected in Western culture too, from the notion of ‘Mother Earth’, to the predominance of feminine nouns in gendered languages for words such as hill, valley, and cave. And these are exactly the words that come to mind when viewing the landscape of Simpson’s paintings. With our environment at crisis-point, we need less greed, less colonising, and more nurturing, more wholeness. Nature is not separate to us; we are created in its image. This is what Simpson urges us to remember.

Caterina Leone
June 2017                                                                     


I first met Robert Simpson around 1978: the year that I committed myself to painting full-time and around the time that Bob was just kicking off too. The world was wide and a small, loose cohort of painters gravitated towards each other due to common goals. Primarily, we had a zeal for painting the landscape.

Within the genre of traditional landscape painting, Bob seemed to ‘get it’ very early on. He found a language and expression that took him beyond his contemporaries, and he was tenacious in his study and understanding of all aspects of art.

On painting trips together we were dedicated and worked hard. Still ahead of us in those first heady years was any notion of higher objectives or lofty goals of deeper, more meaningful expression.

Over the first decade, and while I struggled, Bob found success with his near-masterful traditional renditions of the landscape. The public loved what he was doing. We still painted together occasionally and during campfire discussions, he hinted at a growing inner restlessness with what he was doing. Later on, I remember talking with him in his Sussex Inlet studio as he spoke about a book he was reading by Desiderius Orban. It was as though a light had just been switched on — or more like he’d been struck by lightning! It seemed to me that that was, at least in part, the catalyst for the creative explosion that followed.

His work ethic gained an even greater and more relentless drive. It appeared to me from the outside (as we didn’t catch up often) that he was on the verge of something monumental. Every painting was transitional. His work, his mind, and his goals were in flux.

I believe that during that crucible of artistic self-analysis Robert’s ongoing concern for the environment, his rejection by a lot of his earlier followers — not to mention financial struggles, and his dedication and self-belief, all were eventually galvanised into an artistic apparatus that allowed him to clarify the fundamental things that were most essential to him. More importantly, these different strands converged in such a way that he was finally able to find ways and means of expressing them in paint.

In his succeeding, more mature work, I saw his increased use of recognisable objects as metaphor and symbol as an easing of his near self-flagellation during those transitional years. That period was a long, manic quest to discover and interpret the elemental foundations of his perceived world. The once difficult-to-interpret imagery evolved to accommodate an accessible communication while maintaining his artistic integrity.

Unique, creative and inventive are for me hallmark adjectives describing Bob’s emotion-charged examinations of man’s relationship with the natural world. Certainly his paintings require some sensitive thought and interpretation on our part when ‘reading’ them, but we can gain so much from his alchemy and be elevated by his pure art.

Warwick Fuller
June 2016


View Available Works

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Prior Exhibitions at Lost Bear Gallery

View 2016 Exhibition

View 2011 Exhibition

View 2010 Exhibition


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