Henrietta Simson - Scenario 

22. May - 15. Jun 14 / ended CABIN Gallery


Monday to Sunday 10 am - 6 pm

Exhibition | Painting | London

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'Landscape with a Spring (after Giotto)' by Henrietta Simson, Oil and pigment on gesso, 60x48cm, Photo: Courtesy of The Art Cabin

'Landscape with a Spring (after Giotto)' by Henrietta Simson, Oil and pigment on gesso, 60x48cm, Photo: Courtesy of The Art Cabin

Henrietta Simson - Scenario

The Art Cabin is delighted to announce Scenario a solo show of by Henrietta Simson.

Golden skies look down upon arid, futuristic landscapes. Earthy tones of taupe and beige hint at dry, barren hillsides, adorned with lonely trees. Elsewhere, pale, rolling hills are framed by intense, blue skies. There is something lonely and otherworldly about these landscapes. They exude a sense of loss – of action long gone, or yet to be, and we travel in time, both backwards and forwards. In Scenario, running at The Art Cabin from 22 May – 15 June, what we are presented with are, in fact, Henrietta Simson’s evocative re-imaginations of the world as depicted in the works of the great Renaissance masters. However, rather than focusing on the subject, she plucks out the often-overlooked background, that strange pseudo-space in so many paintings that is a world unto itself. In doing so, she seeks to examine our relationship with perspective and how it has evolved and changed in the past 500 years as part of history’s ongoing political and ecological narratives.

It was upon looking at Renaissance paintings that Simson found herself intrigued by their combination of “peculiar spatial constructions” and material quality. “The backgrounds seemed like glimpses into a different world, not necessarily connected to the main subject,” she explains. In works such as Piero della Francesca’s The Nativity, she was drawn to the independent nature of these backgrounds, seemingly unhindered by the narrative of the main story in the foreground. “They somehow didn’t resemble ‘real’ spaces, but, rather, were experimental,” Simson says. “These were parts of the picture in which artists could perhaps be freer than they could with the main figures, which they would have had very strict instructions for from their patrons. I remember looking at The Conversion of St Hubert by The Master of the Life of the Virgin and being really taken aback by the strange triple space that was occurring in it - the gold sky which is like a very flat vertical backdrop, and then below this funny amazing piece of aerial perspective like an island sealed off by gold above and the foreground narrative landscape below.” Simson was fascinated by the strange nature of these backgrounds, painted at a time when artists were supposed to have been depicting pictorial space with as realistic a perspective as possible. “The more I looked at these paintings, the more they looked like a fusion of previous convention and experimentation rather than constructions of what might be called 'real' space,” she says.

Simson takes these Renaissance works as her starting point, removing the main narrative, or subject and honing in on the backgrounds themselves. They are then expanded until they fill the frame, vast landscapes empty of human habitation and form. Through their expansion, they become simplified, and through this simplification, they take on a barren aspect, filled with a sense or mourning or loss. These landscapes, so intrinsically rooted in the past, also take on a neutrality that could place them at any point in the future – markers of a post-apocalyptic time yet to come. “It is important to me that these landscapes are empty,” says the artist. “This provides the possibility of a recontextualisation - for them to appear (or reappear) as contemporary spaces. They have become the main event rather than the framing device.” She maintains the material continuum of the originals by using similar materials, working with gesso, for example, and using gold leaf, yet this is where their link to the past stops.

For Simson, it is the perspective paradigm that lies at the heart of her practice, and the technologies of image-making. Within the history of Western art, she argues, perspective has been abstracted and flattened into two-dimensional spaces. Maps and grids, constantly refined over the ages, are society’s attempt at commanding the space around it, both a “complete domination and control of the visual realm” as well as a driving force in exploration and colonization. “Whether through photographic technologies or film (and other technologies that construct a two-dimensional space as an effective equivalent for how we see the world), what we have created is a distance between the viewer and the viewed: the latter is trapped in a perspective grid.” It is this which Simson equates with Western culture and political dominion. “Today, visual technologies continue to be developed as a driver for warfare,” she says, “but these early spaces are so important in their connection to the material, which is more about empathy between viewer and the viewed, rather than perspective and distance. Without the glossy and idealized technologies we are presented with today, these paintings establish a connection that unites the artwork and the viewer in a physical space – in the present.”

The exhibition will present a series of Simson’s paintings alongside clay hill sculptures to create a dialogue between the two- and the three-dimensional, immersing the viewer within the pictorial space. “It is by returning to these beautiful early spaces that we can see a physicality attached to the visual that reconnects us with space through imagination and body,” says Simson, “not just through glossy screens and high-definition images which are too perfect, too immaterial and unobtainable.”

About Henrietta Simson

Henrietta Simson received her MA in Fine Art from the Slade School of Fine Art, London (2007), followed by studies at the London College of Fashion (2011) and is currently undertaking a practice-related PhD at the Slade School of Fine Art, with completion in 2015. Working in painting, photography, video and installation, her practice engages in political and ecological narratives through their sense of loss and their time travel, also through a connection between land and body that does not exclusively privilege the visual. Recent solo shows include the Slade Summer School (2013 & 2007) and the Slade Research Centre (2008), Man&Eve Gallery, London (2008) and Volta New York (2010). Group shows include New Contemporaries (2006), the John Moores Painting Prize (2010) and the Jerwood Drawing Prize - in 2005, and as Simson&Volley in 2012. Simson is the recipient of the 2011 Threadneedle Prize for Painting and Sculpture, and was also awarded the Clare Winsten Memorial Award by The Slade School of Fine Art, as well as the Gordon Luton Award for Fine Art (both 2007).

About The Art Cabin gallery

The Art Cabin (originally The Old Sweet Shop) is a contemporary art gallery located in the residential area of Southfields in London and was founded in 2006 and re-branded in 2012. Focusing on promoting a cutting edge programme of emerging and mid-career artists, the gallery presents work across a multitude of media, with a focus on illustration and fine art. It seeks to provide an intimate space in which to both challenge and engage with viewers, as well as provide a platform for artists to present works that are at times quirky and uncanny, sometimes humorous, but above all, unique in their ability to present a fresh approach to the visual arts. Joe Madeira, the gallery's founder and director, was born in The Algarve in Portugal and studied at Faculdade de Belas-Artes de Lisboa before coming to the UK in 1991, where he completed his Master of Arts in graphic design at Central Saint Martins and his Master of Philosophy at The Royal College of Art with a research paper in Postmodernism and Self-identity in Photography. In addition to running the gallery, Madeira has designed a number of large-scale exhibitions for galleries and museums, more recently Hidden Histories of Exploration for The Royal Geographical Society and Foundling Voices for The Foundling Museum.

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