Katy Simpson

Preview: 6.00-10.00pm Friday 14 September
In conjunction with Dublin Culture Night
Continues until Saturday 29 September 2007

Event: Katy Simpson Solo Exhibition
in conjunction with 2007 Dublin Culture Night

Reception: 6.00-10.00 pm Friday 14 September
continues until Saturday 29 September 2007

Including: Guest Speaker Kevin Kelly (IMMA board member and Business2Arts Honorary President)
with live performance by the Dublin ensemble, 3Epkano

Katy Simpson: Brief Biography

Katy Simpson completed an honours degree in French and English and studied in the Ateliers des Beaux Arts Paris before returning to Ireland and attending first the Dun Laoghaire College of Art and Design and then N.C.A.D. She first came to public attention in 1998 with a degree-show installation of panels and polyptychs depicting shadowy, mysterious and for the most part unpopulated interiors. The work won her two NCAD first prizes, one for the paintings and one for the accompanying thesis. This was followed with solo-exhibitions at the Brend Peterson Gallery, Los Angeles and at Oisín Gallery in 1999, which received favourable coverage in The Irish Times, Circa, TV3 and RTE. She was later commissioned to create paintings for the title sequence of the groundbreaking television documentary, States of Fear, first screened in 1999.

Other exhibitions include echo, a solo-exhibition opened by James Hanley at Oisín Gallery in 2005; and Eurojet Futures at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 2002 and the 2005 Anthology. She also exhibited her monumental polyptych, Still Time, at an international convention of curators and collectors. Selected awards include the Microsoft award for painting and first prize in an arts festival competition adjudicated by the painter William Crozier and Declan McGonagle, former director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

Katy Simpson: A personal view, by Ciaran Bennett

“For some time the silence on the balcony was broken only by the water singing in the fountain. Pilate saw how the watery dish blew up over the spout, how its edges broke off, how it fell down in streams”

The Master and Magarita by Mikhail Afanasievich Bulgakov
(Translation Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, Penguin Books 1997)

In the paintings of Katy Simpson the understanding of collaboration as a process of recorded reality through association, memories, and recall is central to her practice. Photocopies of original photos and appropriated images from magazines and art history are relocated and analysed through painting. The panels are emotive scales which articulate the timbre of a moment in time and place. What is a real representation in the context of painting ? there is no truth or reality, only the process whereby one conceives the them as art, or as Katy has said to me in her studio ‘meanings are always mutating’.

There is a domestic feeling of Alfred Hitchcock’s films in some of the panels, the mundane becomes the object of scrutiny and often the instrument of terror. This finely observed transition from the obvious nature of the material associated with an object, can be refocused to present the mundane as a dangerous and often threatening source of mishap. The shower curtain of Psycho, and the associated theme music, seem to fluidly coalesce with the remembered image of a scissors, even when there is only the shower curtain, a simple domestic material imbued with a sense of tension and recoil, by the emotive presence of its associated visual and theatrical history in cinema. This overpowering associative visual history is our inheritance from both cinema and the commercial media of printing and magazines in the last hundred years. By comparison our ancestors had a rather meagre pantheon of gods and saints to remove them from the mundane cycles of their lives and illuminate their awe at the divine rapture of Giotto or the formalistic magnificence of the Byzantine aesthetic. The mundane associations of modern posters and later commercial advertising as glossy allusions to another world of a consumer paradise, have latent threads of historical association with their former vestiges in western art, the object of desire diluted by the process of observation and painting, exposing the human experience of the sensation, while reconstructing the focus of desire and association. In the moment of recall in one of Simpson’s panels,a mobile phone plugged into the wall is left on the floor, a singular object a source of intervention and communication, but also silence and isolation, has its own latent charge. As in cinema, the simple repeated images with alternative possibilities in a repeat pattern of edited moments and seconds can invoke the edge of trauma and a peculiar sense of déjà vu.

When I visited her studio, we spoke of ‘looking at the negative of the painting’ as if it were a photographic negative. In the older black and white negatives there is a fragility to the memory of the image and the history of the paint as a material engages with this innate visual process.There is a sense of revisiting and changing the context of the image, because of the nature of each panel an image is never seen in isolation from the emotive character of its original source as a moment of tactile visual resonance.

The panels of MDF, which are extremely absorbent and yet fragile as a manmade material, are coated with gesso, a substance associated with a much older yet equally absorbent wood panel from the medieval period. This sense of material, both fragile and yet sealed to become a surface for a new history of the image, references the older tradition, and yet allows her to transpose these references from the organic, into her muted sense of emotive recall.

There is in these panels the liquid surfaces of dreams, or as she has remarked, ‘The idea of the inexplicit as opposed to the explicit’ These ideas of clarity and transitory articulation, the obvious references to contemporise society in the original source material, and yet the quixotic reinvention of these images as personal tropes, brings a certain tension to the references, which are not necessarily inherent to their original character. This is particularly apparent in the hands being washed in the light green bowl,prosaic yet somehow evocative of the above passage on Pilate in the novel by Bulgakov. The under painting coming through as almost a palimpsest, where tropes are breaking the skin of the picture plain, leaking onto the surface, as remembered material aspects of their own nature, are subtle aspects of these painted images.

The smaller panels originally as neutral zones of tonal and monochrome clarity, sometimes though a blank space, can change the temperature of the overall constructed composition, and act as borders for articulation and intrinsic armatures of the emotive and compositional content. They are as equally potent as the painted images which they surround, the constructed character of such devices, have historical moments in Cubism and particularly in Constructivism, where the juncture of painted mimetic associations discover a new parallel existence as elements of a total composition. The constructed nature of parallel art objects, brings to mind the medieval portable shrines for saints and other votive objects. The panels when opened as doors, showed a crucifixion, the trials of a saint, or the image of a companion, on ones physical as well as ones spiritual journey. These tableau's of iconic imagery as art, correspond to the cinematic density of both personal fetishism and remembered moments of a domestic nature. The contemporary portmanteau of television, the laptop screen or the portable DVD player, are surfaces for images, preconceived as cinema or momento mori of childhood dreams and experiences, the memory as hard drive or disc, rather than the adorned container of the portable triptych with hinges. These works have that resonance of beauty and decay, the reflected and dissolved moments captured in paint from the raw material of human visual intercourse. The commercial is transposed into the personal, the fictive embrace of consumerism becomes the totem of exquisite trauma, or the friction of distant memories subconsciously evoked by the image, which becomes the source of painting, the material of art.

Ciaran Bennett
Dublin August 2007
Pollock Krasner Research Fellow
Writer, Curator and President of AICA Ireland

Katy Simpson: Catalogue Extract 2004 (Antoinette Sinclair)

Katy Simpson works in oil on acrylic-primed single panels, which she groups together to form polyptych-style installations. Her paintings display distinct tonal and compositional control, and are often flanked in disjointed, dream-like sequences, suggestive of quirkily juxtaposed film stills. Cut-off views of domestic detail are recurring motifs: Lamps, chairs, a section of rumpled bed, an area of a shower room, a light switch, a telephone cord; all hint at a tale that the viewer is challenged to mentally compose and complete.

It is evident that these commonplace objects and settings have very personal, perhaps indefinable meanings for Katy. There is more than a hint of melancholy and a suggestion of possible loss. There is also a sense of a deep affecting presence, which is, strangely, more physical in the deserted spaces and staircases than in the odd glimpse of a face or torso. Connections to the outside world, an open door or a window, appear to have both the quality of a threat to the inner security and a longed-for escape from restriction. The resulting effect is a feeling of claustrophobia, loneliness and void.

Katy draws on many disparate sources including photography, media-advertisements, television, film and literature. However, her range of imagery deliberately resists categorisation. Events and ideas are not expressed explicitly, but implied through subtle hints and allusions, creating an ambiguous collage of disconnected fragments and details. The flanking of imagery suggests that there might be a story; a chronology, particularly in the longer, panoramic arrangements. Nevertheless, it is virtually impossible for the observer to read from left to right as a straightforward narrative. This approach signals Katy's belief that representation can only be partial and subjective, and meaning must be pieced together, like memories, through isolated fragments. As a result, she has formed a process and style of work that refuses to ignore the most fleeting of perceptions. Instead, there is a reverence for the fact and substance of their existence.

Throughout Katy’s career as an artist, she has always looked for fresh conjectural footholds for exploring the fundamental forms of experience and memory. Occasionally, there is a bid for a symbolic statement, but as a rule, Katy continues to do what she does best – closely observed accounts of the processes of memory. She draws similarities in her own work to a particular scene in Marcel Proust's novel, since they both enable the viewer to experience the past as a simultaneous part of the present:

"And suddenly the memory revealed itself: The taste was that of the little piece of Madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane."

On this premise, her inquiry is into how domains of memory are formed. By challenging the heterogeneous nature of contemporary experience, she directs us to a more elemental level of activity; memory, recall and its trigger; rather than a directly illustrative portrayal. Her strategy is unique and involves cutting up a larger corpus and splitting it into manageable microforms, resulting in a tangle of introspective recollections whose points of reference and intersections cannot be fixed, but are both tangible and timeless.


Katy Simpson: Curriculum Vitae

Katy Simpson was born in London.
She lives and works in Dublin.


Bachelor of Arts Honours Degree, Fine Art Painting, first class honours, National College of Art and Design, Dublin, 1998

Dun Laoghaire College of Art and Design, Dublin, 1995

Ateliers des Beaux Arts, Paris, 1991-94

Bachelor of Arts Honours Degree in French and English, University College Dublin, 1987

Solo exhibitions

echoes, Oisín Gallery, Dublin, 2004

mirrored, Oisín Gallery, Dublin, 2001

through the looking glass, Siamsa Tire, Kerry, 2001

through the looking glass, The Belltable, Limerick, 2001

still time, Oisín Gallery, Dublin, 1999

je t'ai connu, Le Pythagore, Paris, 1994

Selected group exhibitions

Royal Hibernian Academy Annual Exhibition, Dublin, 2007

Eurojetfutures: An Anthology of eEerging Art from Ireland, Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, 2005

Royal Hibernian Academy Annual Exhibition, invited artist, Dublin, 2002

See It As It Is - New Irish Realists, Draiocht Arts Centre, Blanchardstown, 2001

Eurojetfutures 01, curated by Patrick T. Murphy, Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, 2001

Fusion, Dunmaise Arts Centre, Portlaoise, 2000

Scoip 2000, curated by Declan Mc Gonagle and William Crozier, Siamsa Tire Arts Centre, Kerry, 2000

Broadstone Open 1999, Broadstone Studios, Dublin, 1999

Absolut Secret, Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, 1998

National College of Art and Design Graduate Show, Royal Hibernian Academy Gallery, Dublin, 1998

Catalyst, The Crypt, Dublin Castle, 1997

Ateliers des Beaux Arts, Paris, 1994

Visages, Paris,1993


Scoip 2000 solo exhibition adjudicators' award


States of Fear, RTE television documentary produced by Mary Raftery. Existing and further series of paintings commissioned and integrated into series.


Paintings in the exhibition