The path: “Grew up in Joliet. My art training took place over an extended period,” including two years majoring in art at University of Illinois in the mid-1950s, then transferring to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She returned to SAIC to complete her degree in 1971 and then earned a master’s in fine art in 1978. Simpson currently lives in Wilmette. We communicated by e-mail, her preference.
The Biennial: “It is the most exciting thing by far that has happened for me in my 40-year career as an artist. Having been chosen for this exhibition, in a way, validates my work. It tells me I’m doing something that is current and meaningful, even to a generation much younger than myself. It just tells me I’m doing something ‘right’ and to keep working.”
The work: “When I begin a new group of sculptures, I spend some time researching visual sources that directly feed into the works. The works in the Biennial refer to my longtime interest in clothing forms and to a more recent interest in commercial and domestic window treatments. The titles Peplum, Robe, Valance, Lambrequin, and Jabot refer to these dual interests.
I like to combine commercial materials like wood and perforated aluminum with more common everyday materials like canvas, crayon, and colored pencil. The details of the drawn lines and joinery are important aspects of my work. Ideally they should be viewed in person up-close to appreciate these details.”
Her age (84): “I think it’s not unusual for the majority of artists selected for the Whitney Biennial to be on the younger side of 50. But I’ve also noticed that recently more attention is being paid to underrecognized older artists. So all I can say is ‘hoorah.’ If it’s odd being chosen at my age, I’m happy to feel odd, and I hope that my inclusion in the show will give encouragement to all those artists over 50 who continue to go into their studios day after day.”
Chicago vs. New York: “I used to think it was a hindrance living here, that any serious artist had to move to (New York). I don’t think that’s as much of an issue now. Exposure has been helped due to the internet and prevalence of art fairs. Also, a bit of Isolation can be a good thing, allowing an artist to develop something more uniquely their own.”
The controversy: “I expected this one and was hoping you wouldn’t ask. My first reaction when I learned about the controversy was, ‘But what does this have to do with me and my art … and I hope this doesn’t dominate the conversation over the exhibition.’ In a way, it has.
A good amount of every article and review is about this issue. I have not taken an active role in the protest but support those who have. If the protests help to oust this board member and in the future promote ethical decisions on who should and should not be on institutional boards, then I feel it’s worth all the fuss.”