Rough Passage – Chris Simpson

in Art/Spotlight

I have been painting and drawing since school, I had a very progressive teacher for GCSE, Gloria Stock, who used to regale us with stories of mud wrestling; the great thing about her is that she also made work whilst we were, so she created a studio atmosphere. It was brilliant for students especially ones, like me, who were a little bit more, let’s say, distracted!  But later on for my A levels, I failed miserably as I couldn’t agree with the art teacher who was way behind the previous one. So after that I found myself in the makeup world, got sucked in. There weren’t many men working in it back then so I was a novelty, got fast tracked to the top, as we were so few. It really helped me understand the human face, as that was my canvas, a preoccupation with planes and contours. About that time I started doing male nudes of my partner at the time, he was a great model, but while I was drawing I realised I was more interested in the fabric around him than him! I mean the way it folded, bunched around the form, I thought, why not take the body away? I then started using fabric over models, myself, putting it over ancient Roman sculptures when I went to Italy…so it kind of fed into my painting. I bought some blue satin, draping it over a model for a piece about human trafficking, this corporeal frightening thing happening in the world: Wrapped bodies became a sort of veil of truth that needs to be seen.  From here I arrived at sculpture, as I was frustrated with 2-D. I had a great tutor at Camberwell, who asked, why do you need to do it flat? I had thought of myself as a painter, but I started shifting between dimensions when I went on a residency in 2014. My first ever residency (Atina, Lazio, Italy) with early or mid-career artists like Susana Sanroman, Jude Cowan Montague, Maria Teresa Gavazzi, inspired me.  I wasn’t going to waste time in Italy being in a studio all day, I wanted to be out, discover the landscape. I took fabric and went around draping the town.  It was then that I saw fabric as a metaphor for paint, once I jumped off the 2-D ledge, I enjoyed a new beginning.

Crash – Cavendish Square show

For my actual degree show I draped a 20 metre long, 2.5 metre wide corridor, its sides and ceiling, leaving you wandering through a kind of cloth labyrinth. I sent for the corridor as I realised not many artists were going for it, as it posed a health and safety issue: It links bits of the building so must be navigable, pass stringent tests etc. Most students couldn’t be bothered with that. So that was the challenge, I even had to set my work on fire to prove it was stable, wouldn’t smoke in a passageway etc.  And I knew I wanted people to look up, I had sat in that corridor just watching people going up and down it, all looking down at their phones, and I would make them look up! Like Robert Morris’ ‘Passageway’ in the 1960s which you had to squeeze through to see. My piece was called Rough Passage, referencing the journey from Art School to the outside world, using a space decked in white that led you to studios all bright with colour. Making people look up, slowing people down. I love watching people in art galleries, how they react to the work. After that I showed another adaptation of it in a Cavendish Square show curated by Vanya Balogh, entitled Crash: It was a physical passageway in an underground car park behind John Lewis, Oxford Street. I wanted people to actually go through it, as it looked like you were walking through a passage where the ceiling had collapsed.

Rough Passage – Waterloo Festival

I also did a piece for the Waterloo Festival St Johns Churchyard Gardens called ‘Rough Passage’, which really did suffer. It was an ephemeral show entitled ‘Nothing Endures But Change’ curated by Susan Haire in a beautiful green space in the middle of London, so I knew my work would have to be red: Change is frightening, red is the colour of alarm/danger, so I made an actual 3-D work for the first time – A wooden frame stapled with the same material I had used in its previous incarnations, I just changed its colour.  As it was summer I expected the sun to fade it, but someone got drunk one weekend, went berserk round the sculpture garden destroying lots of pieces of work.  The first I knew of it was when the curator messaged me asking me to come and fix it, but I loved it, thought it was so much better that what I had done. It had undergone its own Rough Passage, had an element of intervention. I’m always thinking about intervening in the public space, but never thought about the public intervening in my work. When you put work in a public space it won’t only be affected by the public being around it, but by what they do to it. Why should I be so precious about something I have put into the world?  As an artist I’m putting stuff out there to manipulate, slow down the everyday. And now here is true public interaction!

Alarme Rosso – Atina, Italy

At the end of my degree show there were metres of red tulle thrown in a bin. So I took it to Italy that year, at a time when there were loads of mountain forest fires.  I decided to find a burnt area, install my piece there, just for 24 hours, see it in the landscape as a homage to the life that was there before. At the same time I covered an ancient Roman cistern in the town as a source of that life. I was actually disappointed with the result, after spending an entire day installing up the mountain and coming down I thought it looked pretty paltry from down below! But the next day, as I was taking it down, a whole army of police, ambulance, volunteers, medics appeared thinking it was a breakout fire. There I was standing with all this red fabric pouring out my bag like a latter day Beelzebub. And they kept shouting Alarme Rosso  (Red Alert) and Sky Italia TV got involved so it became a huge event. But the police were fine as I liked Celtic, or my Dad does, so that saved me, as it’s a good Catholic club.

Sky Italia images of Alarme Rosso disturbance!

My current project will be a test for me as an artist, my dissertation for the RCA  is entitled ‘Can public art endanger public order?’. It’s a bridge wrap, so this will be guerrilla piece, quite dangerous, as there’s a sheer drop on one side. It means getting up and draping statues in a high-vis vest and helmet looking legit. I’ve worked out how to do it, found a fabric. I am only going to cover two statues on the bridge: Victorian statues of women, allegories to such diverse phenomena as Fine Art and Commerce. A cadmium red fabric, wrapping the imperial dream in red lace. The bridge is a smooth ride into the city where money was and is being made, over a river full of the effluence of that same space. I will document it being done; as it might be taken down very quickly as counter-terror could be on me in a minute.  But I’m hoping some Londoners will see it!

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