Michael Simpson

Michael Simpson

Odyssey of a Painter

“I’ll tell you what I did feel when I was a younger man: I felt kind of sexy. It has something to do with the sensuality of painting.” British Michael Simpson invited us into his studio space, where he shared the story of his journey as a painter.

“It was like a cultural backwater, where I lived. There wasn’t even a book in the house … The family was in a sense culturally impoverished.” Simpson grew up alone with his mother, and when his uncle took him to his first football match at the age of seven, what caught Simpson’s attention was not the game but the colours and shapes: “From that point on I drew and painted … That was how I began to work with painting, and it didn’t stop. It just grew in intensity, and that’s how I began my odyssey as a painter.”

“When you look at a painting the first thing you must see is the painting itself and then the image later. If that happens then the painting is half-way to working.” Simpson feels that a painting must always “move beyond its subject,” and hence the mechanics of a painting – such as the use of colour and the creation of the form – is crucial: “It’s like constructing a building.” Moreover, he finds that the term ‘art’ is quite worn out: “I don’t think that painters ever think about art, when they make a serious painting. What they’re doing is solving a problem, or problems.”

Michael Simpson (b. 1940) is a British painter. He has been working on a series of large-scale paintings relating to the same atheist theme since 1989: ‘Bench paintings’. Although this work – which originates in his intense interest in the infamy of religious history and in particular to the renegade medieval philosopher Giordano Bruno – is contemporary, its main influences originate from 15th century Venetian and early Flemish painting. Simpson’s first solo show was at Piccadilly Gallery in 1964, and he has since exhibited continuously including solo shows at Arnolfini in Bristol, David Risley Gallery in Copenhagen and Serpentine Gallery in London. He lives and works in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire in England. For more see: http://www.michael-simpson.co.uk/

Michael Simpson was interviewed by Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen in his studio space – a former gasworks – and also filmed at Spike Island – an international centre for the development of contemporary art and design – in England, February 2016. Please note that the painting shown in the background in Simpson’s studio is an unfinished work by the painter.

Camera: Kyle Stevenson
Produced and edited by: Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen
Cover photo: ‘Leper Squint’ (16), 2014, by Michael Simpson
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2016

  • Peter Land

    Man Falling

    Meet an artist who uncompromisingly uses himself in his art. Inspired by his own fears and anxieties Peter Land makes disturbingly humorous work, but it was moral qualms that were behind his groundbreaking video of himself dancing naked.

  • Mika Rottenberg

    Girl Power From Another Century

    Meet the truly original video artist Mika Rottenberg! Here she shares the fascinating story behind her take on Orwell's 'Animal Farm' – a work in which a group of women with extremely long hair turn things around – and take fate into their own hands.

  • Vigdis Hjorth

    I am not a Pretty Postcard

    “Writing is the relationship between head, gut and hand.” Vigdis Hjorth is considered one of the strongest voices in contemporary Norwegian literature. She here shares why it is essential for her well-being to be able to express herself in writing.

  • Yona Friedman

    Architecture of Trial and Error

    “Don't forget that very important cities today started by immigration.” Meet the 94-year-old architect behind 'L’Architecture Mobile', Yona Friedman. He here shares the story of how his years as a refugee sparked his desire to make architecture adaptable.

  • Nástio Mosquito

    'Mama Africa' is a Construct

    In this short interview Angolan artist Nástio Mosquito discusses his provocative video work, in which he through three blazing speeches addresses the legacy of the western logic of ownership and debt, not least regarding a construct like ‘Africa’.

  • Nástio Mosquito

    What are You Willing to Die for?

    Angolan artist Nástio Mosquito has been dubbed “the future star of the art world.” He here talks about his invigorating multidisciplinary practice, which investigates universally human characteristics in a teasing, polemic and humorous way.

  • Marina Abramović

    Electricity Passing Through

    For more than 50 years trailblazing performance artist Marina Abramović has used her own body and energy as her main artistic material. In this powerful interview, the artist looks back on her radical practice: “It was like the first woman walking on the moon.”

  • The Story of Marina Abramović & Ulay

    Legendary couple in performance art – Marina Abramović and Ulay – lived together for 12 years and made pioneering work as a duo. In this extraordinary double interview the artists look back on their relationship – from their first meeting in 1975 until now.

  • 11 Artists

    on Photography

    “We are so oversaturated with images, so it’s about one question: Can I hold you - can I get you to look at an image for longer than a second?” Watch Catherine Opie, Wim Wenders, Jeff Wall and 8 other artists on the power and potential of photography.

  • Julie Nord

    The Power of Drawing

    “It’s the closest you get to silence – or skin. There’s so little between me as an artist and my material.” Artist Julie Nord here shares her attraction to the "no bullshit" of drawing. Visit her studio and take a peek at how she makes her surreal, fairy tale-like drawings.

  • Nina Saunders

    A Cultural Warrior

    Meet artist Nina Saunders who plays with the familiar by twisting it in surprising ways. She here discusses her humorous yet disturbing work – made from discarded upholstered furniture and stuffed animals – which comments on our world.

  • Erica Jong

    Sexuality and Creativity

    “The urge to create and the urge to copulate are very close.” Watch the iconic feminist writer Erica Jong speak candidly of being fuelled creatively by desire, her experiences as a female writer and what she has come to realize about men.