Each work, and the exhibit as a whole, reflects the artist’s own nature and feels like a self-portrait.
Although draws from early periods in Simpson’s career, many of the works on view were made for the exhibition, which is the result of two years of planning. Included are seven of Simpson’s which adorn the walls, encircling the space as though bearing witness to all of her exhibited works — and by extension, herself. The clay masks, as well as other figures in the exhibition, feature symbols based on her Santa Clara heritage as well as on her own tattoos. In this way, she draws a direct line between past and present, between the living and the dead. While some narrative aspects of her work are explicated by the accompanying text, others remain elusive to the viewer. Regardless, one still can appreciate the simplicity of the masks and the benign sense of their presence.
The text panels, printed on metal in a stately presentation, are wisely kept at a distance from the objects of art. Only one panel is included for each of several sections, and each section represents a body or series of work. This allows the viewer to approach each piece on its own terms, ready to engage with it, rather than mostly reading about it. The text helps explain Simpson’s motivations in creating each series, and those motivations are often intensely personal. Each work, and the exhibit as a whole, reflects the artist’s own nature and feels like a self-portrait. In fact, a statement by the artist on one of the text panels describes them as such.
But most of the works don’t bear the title “selfportrait.” An exception is a sculpture from 2016 made from clay, steel, leather, and wire, in which Simpson imagines herself as a V-6 auto engine — a human form with metal parts that look like an engine overtaking her torso. On one hand, the work reflects her interest in working on old cars (she drives a souped-up El Camino named after famed Santa Clara potter Maria Martinez); on the other hand, she also compares the work, as the text panel explains, to a pregnancy (she felt as if her body were an engine running on its own momentum).
Some of her figurative works display a subtle androgyny. They don’t have the youthful face of Simpson, per se, and appear neither male nor female, neither old nor young. These are warrior figures from a body of work called Simpson created one life-sized bust representing each of the cardinal