Frame 61

Alex Simpson

Frame 61
Alex Simpson

Past, education: I could say it all began in Vienna, the day my mother said I didn’t have to go to play school and she spread an old bed sheet on the table and I began to paint…which was pretty much all I did until I had to start school. Between then and college I dabbled with the idea of becoming a marine biologist, my childhood room was painted blue and covered in scientific sea life posters, but I eventually came round to the fact that I enjoyed drawing and making more than studying science and my course was set. This eventually led to me studying illustration for my BA in Brighton.

My interest in the relationship between 2d and 3d began here as I started turning my drawings into groups of figurines. I wanted to walk around this strange world I was depicting on paper, to create something physical, which I could play with, as a child would with toys, compose and rearrange vignettes from a larger narrative. This interest in play has always stayed with me. I have spent the last two years working towards my masters at the Royal College of Art where I developed my ink paintings and ceramic sculptural works. There I became interested in moments of the in-between and the haptic quality of the mark and its transition between two and three dimensions.

Clay as a medium: Clay is also often described as a ‘body’ and is used to build hollow forms, it has the possibility to contain, and it could be that I have chosen it as it could hold a part of myself within it. I also think I was unconsciously looking for a material that was as direct as drawing or painting. Both have the potential to be immediate; with a few marks on paper you can express or suggest an emotion, object or figure. In the same way, in a few interactions you can animate a lump of clay, effortlessly leaving a record of your presence in the material, for clay has a physical memory.

I use ink to both paint and colour the surface of the fired ceramic. Both clay and ink have some similar material qualities; fluid, responsive, immediate and yet marginally unpredictable. I believe, to have a material directly in hand creates a direct connection between the brain and the outside world, through which the unconscious can flow, opening the passage between interior and exterior spaces in the moment of creation.


Ancient, mysterious and fossilised: Petrification is both a psychological state, which transforms the physical body through fear and a type of fossilization, a transformation of organic matter into stone such as petrified wood. I became interested in this term during my masters when thinking about how I explore personal psychological states through a material, which though initially impermanent (even after it dries, through the addition of water it can be returned to its natural state) once it is fired it becomes hard and stone like. It could last forever although perhaps not in its complete form as it is still fragile and could be broken into parts. I attempt to distil a moment of transition, somewhere between becoming and dissolution fixing it in time so that only the mind can evoke movement again, to create a feeling that there is potential for reanimation when the material is hard and far removed from its soft and transient origins.

Time: This depends, particularly on scale and how I am getting on with the piece. I will often work on several pieces at the same time so it is difficult to judge exactly how long each work takes. ‘Within, Without’ which is about a meter in length took several weeks to build and dry. Building something so large takes time, as you have to build it up slowly so it doesn’t collapse in on itself, although I sometimes embrace the warping and distortion in this process to direct the form. There is a continuous exchange between the material and myself, shifting between intuitive and controlled; the material directs me as much as I direct it. With the smaller pieces it can be very quick and take anything from a few hours to a day to build. I make a lot of pieces but not all of them make the cut. After two firings and the addition of ink, which is slowly built up in layers and absorbed into the still porous surface it is finished. Often the inking transforms the piece and it’s narrative.

Starting a new piece: Sometimes I begin with a coil of clay and see where it takes me. Then there is a lot of stepping back and observing, turning the piece over, changing direction and looking at my other sculptures. Other forms are drawn from my ink paintings, which may also have been made in this intuitive way. On other occasions I work from a series of sketches around an idea or from figurative drawings. I did a lot of life drawing during my masters, it taught me how to see beyond the form of the body in order to capture the feeling, or gesture of life.

Routine: I really enjoy the days when I can just play and almost lose myself in the process. When I am alone and there are no distractions or other things to do I can spend the entire day intensely painting or making and generally experimenting. These days of fluid making, can be exciting as ideas start to physically materialize or develop. This doesn’t happen all the time as there is usually a balancing act going on between, writing applications, researching, preparing materials, testing and making which can be quite fragmented. I generally listen to podcasts whilst working. I think that listening to all of these stories about peoples lives, must subconsciously find their way into my work.

Titles: Once a work is finished I usually have to sit with it for a while. Sometimes it just comes to me and other times I have to work through a few names or go back through my research, to get to one that feels right. Another name can come to me much later when I have had some distance from the work and have a deeper understanding of it, then I will add it to it.


Art heroes / heroines: I think this changes all the time. I recently visited the National Gallery where I was struck by Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’, as if seeing it for the first time. The way he dealt with colour and light, capturing the subtle movement of water, resonated with me, and the way I deal with surface and form. They are quiet and contemplative, I could have sat in front of this painting for hours.

Narrative, viewer: Through creating an uncertainty of form and material I hope to spark curiosity, to attempt to engage the viewer, whether mentally or physically, to explore their own narratives through the pieces.

There is a presence, which emanates from them, much like the feeling I get when I visit the Rothko room in the Tate. I also enjoy humour in art, perhaps as a contrast or to make light of these “serious” contemplations. I am inspired by the playfulness, wit and dark humour of artists such as Marcel Dzama’s, Jockum Nordstrom’s, David Shrigley and Louise Bourgeouis.

Future: I am currently looking for a more permanent studio in South East London. I have a solo show next year with the Barbican Arts Trust, at their Blackhorse Lane Space and I am planning to produce a new body of work for that show.

If you would like to see more of the artist's work click here for their website.

Publishing date of this interview 12/01/16