Painter David Simpson, aged 95, lives and works in Berkeley, California. A member of the Beat Generation, many of his painterly works feature iridescent pigment paints combined with acrylic paint. (Courtesy Haines Gallery, San Francisco)
David Simpson's iridescent interference pigment paintings were made using acrylic paint. (Courtesy Gallery Sonja Roesch)
David Simpson's "Elusive Smoke." (Courtesy Gallery Sonja Roesch)
David Simpson's "Elusive Pimpernel," 1998. (Courtesy Gallery Sonja Roesch)
A young David Simpson, circa 1958.
David Simpson's "Pearl," 2003. (Courtesy Gallery Sonja Roesch)
David Simpson's "Five Square Rotation #1," 1982. (Gallery Sonja Roesch)
David Simpson's "Middle Distance," 2006. (Courtesy Gallery Sonja Roesch)
Artist Myke Venable has been inspired by painter David Simpson's work. Venable's monochrome clustered paintings have been exhibited at Gallery Sonja Roesch, which represents him. (Courtesy Myke Venable)
Myke Venable's "MV81-Spyder," 2014. Like the work of painter David Simpson, this set of clustered paintings features iridescent interference pigments. (Courtesy Gallery Sonja Roesch)
Myke Venable's "MV90-Razell Dazell," 2015. This work is an example of Venable's unique monochrome clustered painting style. (Courtesy Gallery Sonja Roesch)
Artist David Simpson’s beautiful, interactive abstract paintings, closely associated with the California Light and Space movement, are currently on display at Houston’s Gallery Sonja Roesch through August 12. In his past life, however, Simpson became an important member of the Beat Generation on the artistic side.
Simpson founded San Francisco’s Six Gallery along with five other creatives during the 1950s. Evolved from an auto repair shop, Six Gallery later hosted poet Allen Ginsberg’s first reading of his anti-capitalist poem “Howl” on October 7, 1955, in a momentous evening now dubbed “The Six Gallery reading.” Others also present at this first Beat Generation event were Jack Kerouac, Kenneth Rexroth and City Lights founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Kerouac later referenced the night in his novel The Dharma Bums (1958).
Simpson — aged 95 and currently living in Berkeley, California — has outlived most people from that time, including Ferlinghetti, who died at the age of 101 in 2021.
Known as a reductive painter, Simpson and his work are often connected to the California Light and Space movement. Focusing on light and the environment, this movement attracted the likes of James Turrell, Dan Flavin and Robert Irwin. Here in Houston, Light and Space lives on in permanent Flavin and Turrell installations. Simpson also explored other art movements over the years: hard-edge painting (pioneered by Ellsworth Kelly), minimalism and color field painting.
Simpson’s process calls for mixing iridescent interference pigments with acrylic paint. By reflecting, refracting and scattering light, the scintillating color combinations create moments of awe and wonder. Walking from right to left, for instance, the colors are altered from different angles.
Sometimes hidden colors like blue or green shine through. And depending on the time of day or how the sun shines into the gallery, the paintings can look totally different. Simpson clearly appreciates how the element of light insinuates itself into our everyday lives.
Represented by Haines Gallery in San Francisco, Simpson’s paintings are part of the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Panza Collection in Varese, Italy. Gallery Sonja Roesch has shown his work several times in Houston during the past decade too.
Seeing Simpson’s paintings at the gallery inspired local Houston artist Myke Venable to subsequently experiment with interference pigments. Gallery Sonja Roesch represents him as well, and Venable’s oeuvre includes unique monochrome clustered paintings of various hues.
“Seeing David’s work, and the interference paint, I was sort of mesmerized by that and experimented with it,” Venable says.
Venable goes on to explain that art is “communicating to you through vibration because color has a vibration. Color has a frequency. When you combine colors, it’s putting out these frequencies. And the viewer will feel it.”
“David Simpson: Interference and Paintings from the ’80s” remains on view at Gallery Sonja Roesch at 2309 Caroline Street in Houston, through August 12. Learn more here.