Michael Simpson: Paintings

12 May - 17 June 2023 Shanghai
Press release

ARARIO GALLERY Shanghai is pleased to present Michael Simpson Paintings, which includes a body of large-scale works from the series of "Squints Paintings", as well as a pair of "Confessionals" and several small-scale works. The exhibition at Arario Gallery Shanghai, on view from May 12th to June 17th, 2023, will be his largest solo exhibition in China to date.


Over the course of his more than 60-year artistic career, Simpson has focused on what he describes as ‘the mechanics of painting’ – that is, how paintings are constructed and affect the viewing experience of the audiences – the principal subject of his oeuvre. Simpson usually works on large canvases, with a minimal choice of palette in the formality of restrained shape and structure. 


"Squint Paintings" (2009-present) are one of Simpson’s primary ongoing series. In medieval churches throughout Europe, a 'squint' is the architectural feature of a narrow opening that was used to allow leprosy patients and other 'undesirables' to witness sermons from the outside. In this series, the squint appears as a narrow, dark rectangular aperture placed high up, along with a variety of architectural forms for access, including platforms, steps, ladders, and rungs. Every form on his canvas is reduced to its essential geometry, giving his paintings a silent and austere quality. In contrast to what is evident in his apparent critique of organized religion and the politics of belief, Simpson emphasizes on a more metaphysical proposition beyond the subject.


There is a mysterious squint in each painting that invites viewers to approach, but even with the assistance of the ascent structures, it remains a metaphor for the inaccessible void that we cannot comprehend. As with the squint's historical function of exclusion, the structure of the painting confines the viewer to the outside as well. This seemingly tangible aperture leads to a black unknown, which illustrates Simpson's description of what he referred to as "a terrible effort to get to something which gives nothing"; Simpson illustrates his own bewilderment regarding the infinite space in which we exist, something which he believes troubles us all to some degree.


Despite the absence of human presence in his paintings, the use of large canvas creates the illusion that the viewer can enter the constructed room depicted in the work. Platforms, steps, and ladders, which can be seen everywhere in daily life, are then placed in similarly pared-down settings as if within another white cube. Simpson's paintings evoke the fundamental feelings to ascend and emotions associated with human experience and perception. 


As well as focusing on the composition of the major objects in the space, he also pays attention to the subtle nuances of lighting, shading, and position. The two Confessionals are virtually identical, but the most significant differences are the nature of the two reds at the top of the paintings. Simpson believes that there is a variety of decisions to make when it comes to major or minor changes during the art-making process. The two seemingly repeated scenes lead to different impressions after one variable changes, depicting the work from different aspects. Throughout Simpson’s works, his acute sensibility to balance elegance and integrity plays a significant role in building ‘the mechanics of painting’, as a consistent endeavor in his artistic practice.

In Partnership with Southern & Partners, UK


Simpson’s work is in numerous public collections including: Tate, UK; Arts Council England, UK; Arts Council of Northern Ireland, IE; Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, UK; British Council Collection, London, UK; David Roberts Arts Foundation, London, UK; The Ekard Collection, NL; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, DK; Stuyvesant Foundation, NL; Ulster Museum and Art Gallery, Belfast, IE. 


Selected recent solo exhibitions include: Michael Simpson, Nosbaum Reding, Luxembourg (2021); New Paintings, Blain|Southern, London, UK (2019); Selected Paintings, Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai, CN, (2018); Squint, Blain |Southern, Berlin , DE (2017); Flat Surface Painting, Spike Island, Bristol, UK (2016); Study #6, David Roberts Arts Foundation, London, UK (2014); Simpson is the recipient of several awards including the Arts Foundation Fellowship in Painting (2000) and the John Moores (2016) for his painting Squint 19. 

Installation Views