THE IMAGES OF AFRICAN AMERICANS that populate the pages of vintage Ebony and Jet magazines have been a source of inspiration for Lorna Simpson for nearly a decade. Black men and children have featured in her collages, but overwhelmingly she’s focused on advertising images of black women culled and cut from the pages of the iconic publications.

Early on, beginning in 2011, Simpson embellished these photographic portraits from the 1960s and 70s with elaborate ink wash swirls and swooshes, grand and colorful gestures that resulted in fanciful and fantastical coiffures.

She has since experimented, combining the images with all manner of found photography and illustrations from textbooks. Simpson has paired the Ebony and Jet portraits with natural phenomena such as geological formations and glacial masses; billows of clouds and plumes of smoke; architectural elements; domestic interiors; scientific and anatomical diagrams; and a variety of sculptures. These works are mostly modest in scale.

The artist has also incorporated the magazine portraits into a selection of her large-scale paintings, a new direction she began pursuing in 2015. Here, the images are nearly overwhelmed by voluminous masses of deep blue, by turns moody and sensual; gradations of ominous grays; and cool, bright whites. Infused with energy and movement, the powerful and mesmerizing expanses resemble clouds and smoke (outsized versions of previous examples).

The pictorial compositions evoke strength, unease, change, and endurance—experiences and characteristics that have challenged and sustained black women across generations, historically and in the contemporary moment.

Simpson has made countless collages. Blending figuration and abstraction, she’s developed a visual language that explores representation, identity, race, and gender issues. In both the large and small works, the magazine images and added attributes bridge time, conjure dramatic narratives, refute assumptions, and speak to the imagined lives and complex interiority of her subjects.

The magazine images and added attributes conjure dramatic narratives, refute assumptions, and speak to the imagined lives and complex interiority of her subjects.


LORNA SIMPSON, Detail of “Solar,” 2019 (collage on paper; 3 framed collages, 40 x 34.4 cm / 15 3/4 x 13 1/2 inches, Installation dimensions variable). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 

Further exploring the medium, Simpson is introducing dozens of new collages this week, many made in isolation during the COVID-19 crisis. “Give Me Some Moments,” an online exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, debuts May 2.

Building on her existing language, she is showing a variety of techniques. The images are superimposed onto the body of an elegantly feathered bird, adorned with a sophisticated church hat, inserted into natural environments and gallery spaces. The artist presents individual works featuring multiple portraits, juxtaposes full-color images with black-and-white ones, and introduces a new fiery red ground in several works. In others, actual flames are present.

In some scenarios, the images are tightly cropped and fragmented. “Construction” (2020), for example, features the disembodied head of a woman, in profile, atop a tower in the midst of construction. “Walk with Me” (2020) captures a trio of women whose faces are pieced together through the collage process. Meanwhile, what appears to be a rose-colored geological treasure has replaced another subject’s head and torso in a surreal and festive scene titled “California” (2020).

In the exhibition description, Simpson sheds light on the approach: “…the notion of fragmentation, especially of the body, is prevalent in our culture, and it’s reflected in my works. We’re fragmented not only in terms of how society regulates our bodies but in the way we think about ourselves.”

Simpson’s latest collages revisit familiar themes and, at the same time, push into new visual and narrative territory. Each work sets the viewer’s mind racing, wondering, Who is this woman? What am I witnessing? Like scenes plucked from a suspense-filled motion picture, each work begs for a backstory. This ambiguity is precisely what continues to keep the work interesting and compel and engage the viewer. CT

 

TOP IMAGE: LORNA SIMPSON, “Construction,” 2020 (collage on paper, 56.4 x 43.3 cm / 22 1/4 x 17 inches). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 

“Lorna Simpson: Give Me Some Moments” opens online at Hauser & Wirth, May 2, 2020

Simpson’s work is also on view in exhibitions at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia (“Lorna Simpson: Spilling, Breaking Waves,” Feb. 14–Aug. 9, 2020) and the Rennie Museum in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (“Barkley Hendricks | Lorna Simpson,” Feb. 8-Aug. 28, 2020). Both institutions are temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Check directly with the venues for scheduling updates

 

FIND MORE about Lorna Simpson on her website

 


LORNA SIMPSON, “*Adornment,” 2020 (found photograph and collage on paper; 7 framed collages, Installation dimensions variable). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 


LORNA SIMPSON, “*Adornment,” 2020 (found photograph and collage on paper; 7 framed collages, Installation dimensions variable). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 


LORNA SIMPSON, “California,” 2019 (found photograph and collage on paper, 56.5 x 41.8 cm / 22 1/4 x 16 1/2 inches). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 


LORNA SIMPSON, “Flames,” 2019 (found photograph and collage on paper; 2 framed collages, 44.6 x 32.4 cm / 17 1/2 x 12 3/4 inches, Installation dimensions variable). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 


LORNA SIMPSON, Detail of “Flames,” 2019 (found photograph and collage on paper; 2 framed collages, 44.6 x 32.4 cm / 17 1/2 x 12 3/4 inches, Installation dimensions variable). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 


LORNA SIMPSON, Detail of “Flames,” 2019 (found photograph and collage on paper; 2 framed collages, 44.6 x 32.4 cm / 17 1/2 x 12 3/4 inches, Installation dimensions variable). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 


LORNA SIMPSON, “*Adornment,” 2020 (found photograph and collage on paper; 7 framed collages, Installation dimensions variable). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 


LORNA SIMPSON, “Walk with me,” 2020 (collage on paper, 74.6 x 57.2 cm / 29 3/8 x 22 1/2 inches). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 


LORNA SIMPSON, “Lyra night sky styled in NYC,” 2020 (collage on paper, 45.6 x 34.8 cm / 18 x 13 3/4 inches). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 


LORNA SIMPSON, “Solar,” 2019 (collage on paper; 3 framed collages, 40 x 34.4 cm / 15 3/4 x 13 1/2 inches, Installation dimensions variable). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 


LORNA SIMPSON, Detail of “*Adornment,” 2020 (found photograph and collage on paper; 7 framed collages, Installation dimensions variable). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 


LORNA SIMPSON, Detail of “*Adornment,” 2020 (found photograph and collage on paper; 7 framed collages, Installation dimensions variable). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 


LORNA SIMPSON, “*Adornment,” 2020 (found photograph and collage on paper; 7 framed collages, Installation dimensions variable). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 


LORNA SIMPSON, “Solar Glare,” 2020 (collage on paper, 45.6 x 34.8 cm / 18 x 13 3/4 inches). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 


LORNA SIMPSON, Detail of “Solar,” 2019 (collage on paper; 3 framed collages, 40 x 34.4 cm / 15 3/4 x 13 1/2 inches, Installation dimensions variable). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 


LORNA SIMPSON, Detail of “*Adornment,” 2020 (found photograph and collage on paper; 7 framed collages, Installation dimensions variable). | © Lorna Simpson, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by James Wang

 

BOOKSHELF
In “Lorna Simpson Collages,” the artist’s layered portraits inspired by vintage images from Jet and Ebony magazines fill nearly every page with scholar Elizabeth Alexander providing a poetic introduction. “Lorna Simpson: Works on Paper” features early collages and ink portraits, with contributions from Hilton Als, Connie Butler, Franklin Sirmans, Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, and Anna Deveare Smith. A comprehensive monograph documenting her three-decade career, “Lorna Simpson” includes writings by Naomi Beckwith, Marta Gili, Thomas Lax, and Elvan Zabunyan. The volume was published in 2013 and accompanied a traveling exhibition presented the United States and Europe.

 

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