Katy Simpson

echoed October 7 - 16 2004

Catalogue Extract:

Objects take on a quiet life of their own in Katy Simpson's paintings. Utilizing a highly sophisticated and atmospheric oil technique, she permeates traditional themes such as interiors, figurative studies and still-lives in an atmosphere of unreality. She describes, with just a handful of muted tones and with a decisive compositional stringency, her sparsely furnished interiors and their, more often than not, inanimate occupants. 

Within these limitations, Katy varies not only the viewpoint of the picture, but also the perspective. She works in oil on acrylic-primed single panels, which she groups together to form her polyptych-style installations. Her paintings have an exquisite tonal and compositional control and are often flanked in disjointed, dream-like sequences, suggestive of quirkily juxtaposed film stills. Recurring motifs, such as lamps, chairs, cut-off views of domestic detail, a section of rumpled bed, an area of a shower room, a light switch, a telephone cord; all hint at a tale that the viewer is challenged to mentally compose and complete.

It is evident that these commonplace objects and settings have a very personal, perhaps indefinable meaning for Katy. There is more than a hint of melancholy; a suggestion of possible loss. There is also a sense of a deep affecting presence, which is, strangely, more physical in the deserted spaces and staircases than in the odd glimpse of a face or torso. 

Everything stands hypnotically transfixed as though time has stood still with no clues as to why, thus transforming these interior settings into hermetically sealed spaces of disturbing emptiness. Conversely, they are frequently connected to the outside world; an open door or a window that, in many cases, appears to have both the quality of a threat to the inner security and a longed-for escape from restriction. The resulting effect is a feeling of claustrophobia, loneliness and void.

Katy draws on many disparate sources including photography, media-advertisements, television, film and literature. However, her range of imagery deliberately resists categorisation. Events and ideas are not expressed explicitly, but implied through subtle hints and allusions, developing an ambiguous collage of disconnected fragments and details into a carefully woven net of visual references. The serial imagery suggests that there might be a story; a chronology in these installations, particularly in the longer, panoramic arrangements. Nevertheless, it is virtually impossible for the observer to read them as a straightforward narrative. This approach signals Katy's belief that representation can only be partial and subjective, and meaning must be pieced together, like memories, through isolated fragments. As a result, she has formed a process and style of work that refuses to ignore the most fleeting of perceptions. Instead, there is a reverence for the fact and substance of their existence. 

Throughout Katy’s career as an artist, she has always looked for fresh conjectural footholds for exploring the fundamental forms of experience and memory. Occasionally, there is a bid for a symbolic statement, but as a rule, Katy continues to do what she does best; closely observed accounts of the processes of recollection. However, it would not do to over-emphasise the composed, rational side of her work. Admittedly, the process in which she works is somewhat methodical- but her primary interest is concerned with the functions of memory and how it is triggered by small, often relatively insignificant details. She draws similarities in her own work to a particular scene in Marcel Proust's novel since they both enable the viewer to experience the past as a simultaneous part of the present: 

“And suddenly the memory revealed itself: The taste was that of the little piece of Madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane.”

On this premise, her inquiry is into how domains of memory are formed. Therefore, her work is not formulaic, but instead produced in a stream-of-consciousness state. With this, she challenges the heterogeneous nature of contemporary experience and directs us to a more elemental level of activity; memory, recall and their triggers through cutting up a larger corpus and splitting it into manageable microforms. The result are a tangle of introspective recollections whose points of reference and intersections cannot be fixed, but are both tangible and timeless.

- Antoinette L. Sinclair

Paintings in the exhibition