Lorna Simpson

Grew Feathers

2016

Not on display
Artist
Lorna Simpson born 1960
Medium
Photograph, and printed papers on paper
Dimensions
Support: 750 x 568 mm
frame: 785 x 612 x 40 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the artist and Salon 94 2017
Reference
T14890

Summary

Grew Feathers 2016 is a medium-scale black and white collage on paper, made using printed paper and a found photograph. Constructed by applying pieces of cut printed paper to a paper support, it depicts a female figure in a white boat-neck top and pearl necklace who sits sideways on, facing towards the left-hand side of the picture plane. The effect of light and shadow on the figure’s skin is conveyed using differently patterned sections of paper, and her hair is formed of small collaged pieces that give the appearance of feathers, hence the work’s title. The face is represented by a single collaged eye which looks out towards the viewer.

Photography and found imagery has long played an integral role in Simpson’s practice. Speaking about the origins of her fascination with these sources, the artist has said:

I can trace my original interest in found images to a discovery I made of these old Ebony magazines belonging to my grandmother. I found them really satisfying to look at, because they’re so contextual – from a particular time and for a particular audience. From there, I started collecting tons of Ebony and Jet magazines and other, similarly themed printed matter, ranging from the late 1930s through till the late 1970s. For me, the images hearken back to my childhood, but are also a lens through which to see the past fifty years in American history.
(Quoted in Akel 2015, paragraph 4, accessed 2 August 2016.)

Grew Feathers is fabricated using material gathered from Ebony – a monthly culture and lifestyle magazine first published in the United States in November 1945, that was dedicated to African American experience – and from the Associated Press, the distributor for archival imagery from the Johnson Publishing Company which published Ebony and its sister magazine, Jet, until 2016. Whilst the selection and re-appropriation of imagery from these sources demonstrates an intellectual interest in the African American history they chronicle, the collage process suggests a fluid approach to that history. Through a deliberate process of fragmentation, selective exclusion and superimposition, Simpson highlights the complexity of the narrative she represents, and foregrounds what she terms ‘the cracks and the seams where things are put together or re-constructed’ (quoted in Museum of Contemporary Art 2006, p.139).

Although the source material for the collage is thus archival, the work also addresses current African American experience. Just as historic issues of Ebony magazine presented models advertising fashions and cosmetics designed for African Americans – from complexion creams to styling products for afro hair – Simpson here conveys the woman’s hair, as the title suggests, as collaged bird feathers, in a reference to popular contemporary hairstyles that use braiding or curling tongs to create loose and feathery-ended effects. Perhaps also serving as a reference to the African American tradition of wearing ornately-decorated church hats or ‘crowns’ as part of a Sunday Best outfit, Grew Feathers evokes the longstanding cultural importance placed on grooming, being presentable and looking one’s best.

Further reading
Lorna Simpson, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 16 April–10 July 2006.
Joseph Akel, ‘The Photographic Memory: In the Studio with Lorna Simpson’, The Paris Review, 15 October 2015, http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2015/10/15/a-photographic-memory-in-the-studio-with-lorna-simpson/, accessed 2 August 2016.

Hannah Johnston
November 2016

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