|The only true paradise is a paradise that we have lost.
The travel experience promises adventure, growth and authenticity; a journey into the unknown. Yet, in our highly connected global environment, experiences often become the product of spectacle, the mediated image and desire.
Shaped by exotic tropes and clichés Out of Sight presents a dark and seductive paradise that is both arresting and unsettling. The work examines ‘exoticised place’ (often portrayed through social media, tourism and film) teasing the space between authentic and inauthentic, masking and mocking notions of paradise. In the work, tropical motifs are layered and fractured just beyond our grasp; digital auroras emerge from silhouetted skylines; and melancholy figures sit idly, obscured by landscapes and mask-like motifs.
Out of Sight invites contemplation of contemporary experience asking the viewer to examine their own worldly encounters. If we encounter the world, in favour of controlling an image, we create a place that is out of reach and out of sight.
Out of Sight is informed by Simpson’s 2016 artist residencies in Chiang Mai (Thailand) and Flinders Island (Tasmania) where he contemplated his own expectations of romanticised location and authentic experience.
Simpson holds a BFA (Honours) with the University of Tasmania. In 2016 he was selected for the Bayside, Bruny Island and the Fleurieu Food and Wine art prizes. This year Simpson was a resident artist for The Hound in The Hunt Exhibition at MONA (Tasmania) and co-coordinator of the Brunswick Studio Walk (Melbourne).
For those of your who don't know me, My name is Meg Keating and I am the Deputy
Head of Discipline in Visual Arts at the Tasmanian College of the Arts.
It is my great pleasure to be here tonight opening the first solo commercial gallery
exhibition for Joshua Simpson.
Before I go on to introduce the show and work I just wanted to say a little bit about
Josh and my relationship and to introduce Josh to you. I first meet Josh as an
inspiring first year painting student. I also had the privilege of teaching Josh on
several occasions at various level during his undergraduate degree. What struck me
about Josh when he was a student was his enthusiasm, work ethic and passionate
desire to learn and to question convention. Josh also really loves painting and he
loves to paint but most of all Josh is ambiguous and he does back down from a
challenge. I think this is very evident in the work that we see before us.
Josh was also one of those rare students that had something else, something that is
sometimes called the X factor. It is not so much talent or natural ability (although he
has that in abundance as well) but a different approach or take on things that sets
him apart. Josh sees things keenly and he feels these things with equal magnitude.
Tonight Josh has shown us exactly how that X factor has been used in the production
of this new body of work- There is no Other.
Over the years Josh has come and gone from Hobart, travelled extensively and even
moved to Melb but at the heart of it he still calls Hobart home. we catch up on the
occasion , often at openings or for a quick drink, and I am very privileged to now call
Josh a colleague and friend. Importantly over those years I have witnessed a
transformation in Josh- from student to practising artist and professional peer.
Testament to his tenacity and adventurous spirit Josh is about to head off on a series
of residencies , the first to Flinders Is Tasmania and then later in the year to Ne NA
Contemporary artspace in Thailand. On both these residences Josh will engage with
community in order to expand and explore new horizons for his practice.
As part of this opening speech I wanted to introduce you to some the hidden aspects
of this body of work. What we see on the walls tonight is the final artefacts in an
elaborate staging and orchestration of image production.
To begin these works Josh invites his friends and colleagues into a fantastical
theatrical setting so that he can stage source photographs for the production of the
paintings. In this capacity Josh takes on the role of director encouraging and coercing
his sitters to play out characters and personas based on the objects and props around
them. The more excessive and elaborate the setting the better. Here performance and
scenography come together to conjure an artificial reality where the performers (or
sitters in this case) are persuaded to embody other spaces.
Here in this other space, through the façade of dressing up, through role playing and
through taking on false identities a game of hide and seek unfolds. The atmosphere is
familiar almost nostalgic or retro in feel but there is also an uncomfortable
awakening, of something that is also not quiet right. We can not quite grasp this
because it remains hidden in the intestacy of meaning.
In the painted works this sense of Other also materialises through exotic landscapes,
other places and other people. The metaphor of Other becomes a prop or vehicle to
enter the gap where another dimension, another life, or another reality may be
possible. This possibility is tangible, almost tactile, it haunts the works because it sits
just on the periphery of the known. There are glimpses and tantalising hints, just
below the surface.
But penetrating this surface or façade is easier said than done. Josh has used a range
of challenging strategies here to divert our attention. First is the slippery, sexy surface
of paint. The application of paint and finish of the works is sensual and juicy, and our
attention is caught or rather ensnared in this lubricated surface layer.
Second is the odd assemblage of images and forms. Here the sharp awkward cut outs
or silhouette abruptly fracture the figuration. These fractures are at times violent or
dangerous at others playful and humorous. But the humour is darkly comic and we
laugh in spite of ourselves because we know that the playfulness is just another mask
in the acute commentary.
These images are not easy to pin down, they slip and slide with multiple meanings’
and have multiple identities. But then again this is the exactly the point that Josh is
making- that the lines are blurred between perceptions of reality and authenticity
and it is easy to become caught up in a tangled web of deception or overcome by a
alluring gesture or superficial façade. In a society where avatars, imagined realities
and anonymous profiling are commonplace and widely accepted, Josh reminds us of
the anxieties and difficulties associated with navigating this prevalent social
condition. But maybe Josh knows more than he is letting on. Maybe at the heart of it
There is no Other and we are only left with ourselves.
In his latest body of work There is no Other, Simpson uses a central motif of masking as a veil between enhancing reality and actuality. Through a variety of paint handling he positions the painted surface as a façade; a threshold between self and other.
This application creates a fractured collage effect where abstract forms obscure figurative space and pockets of landscape tease the viewer with visual tropes and clichés. The work parallels social media where identities are edited, airbrushed and assembled. Simpson reveals a surreal interpretation of this confluence between self and other that can never be truly unmasked.
In the work, forms are hard edged, gesturally rendered and abruptly layered. Youthful figures are
cropped, dislocated and objectified. On the surface colours are shifting and glowing. The altered hue and saturation of the everyday appears otherworldly. The influence of technology on identity reconstruction is echoed in the works’ digital aesthetic and ruptured surface. The contradictory nature of this threshold throws up a purgatory, utopia or refuge – a place where authentic and inauthentic, self and otherness collide.
Simpson holds a BFA (Honours) with the University of Tasmania. In 2015 he was selected for the Agendo, Lloyd Rees and Morton Bay art prizes. This year Simpson is a recipient of the Ne Na Contemporary Art Space artist in residency program (Thailand) and is involved in projects with Mountain Seas Arts (Flinders Island).