The Mysterious Darknesses of Lorna Simpson’s Paintings

Doreen St. Félix at The New Yorker:

The works in “Darkening,” a new exhibit of paintings by the artist Lorna Simpson, at Hauser & Wirth, are monumental panels that drown the viewer in blues—some shades so potent that they are black, purple. Using graduated saturations of ink-wash over gesso, Simpson builds landscapes and seascapes that recall J. M. W. Turner or Chinese shan shui compositions. But within these views of nature she plants artifacts of culture. Thin strips of what look like newspaper text are layered into a mountain in the painting “Blue Turned Temporal,” the meaning disintegrated. The heads and bodies of models from the pages of Ebony magazine are choked in inky waters. One day, not long ago, I lost myself staring into the series’ tallest work, “Specific Notation,” which, at twelve feet, threatens to reach the gallery’s ceiling. The lower two-thirds of the canvas feature circular stains that suggest underwater rock formations. Then, as if bursting from the mineral, the head of a woman appears suspended in the upper third of the frame, her face screwed into an expression of coy glowering. By the style of her hair, and by the manicuring of her eyebrows, we know that she is a figure of recent human history. But, in Simpson’s painting, frozen in the icy blue canvas, she seems eternal, outside of time.

more here.