Artist Theo Simpson on the liberating potential of designing and building

Vanden Plas, 2018, by Theo Simpson, layered aluminium mounted chromogenic prints bonded to 18-gauge cold rolled steel sheet (British Leyland Cashmere Gold MET body colour/lacquer) in mild steel angle iron
Vanden Plas, 2018, by Theo Simpson, layered aluminium mounted chromogenic prints bonded to 18-gauge cold rolled steel sheet (British Leyland Cashmere Gold MET body colour/lacquer) in mild steel angle iron
(Image credit: TBC)

An avid collector of esoteric and old found imagery — photographs that were once instructional, torn from the pages of manuals, reference books, adverts and instruction guides — Lincolnshire-based Theo Simpson plays the role of both researcher and inventor, looking back at ideas about technology and industry and their genesis, often in dialogue with northern England’s history.

Simpson’s latest exhibition, ‘Part and Whole’, opening tomorrow at FOAM 3H, Amsterdam – part of FOAM’s Outset/Unseen Exhibition Fund awarded to the artist in 2017 – continues to look at these things, but brings them into the contemporary frame. Working with new material he’s collected, ‘experimental drawings and models, books showing children how to build with wire,’ the artist says, ‘I was taken with the liberated ways of designing and building, often free from purpose or from being overwhelmed by function.’

The free-spirited, unconstrained approach of these new materials inspired Simpson’s new series of three sculptural structures on view: two floor-based helical designs at 3H and a third off-site. ‘There was something exciting about the doubt and inconclusiveness that all the pieces encompass; they aren’t forced to achieve the clarity I’ve often looked for.’

Piece of work from Theo Simpsons gallery


(Image credit: TBC)

Where Simpson’s previous work has looked at his surroundings through two-dimensional documentation, the off-site work, an arched form carved from one tonne of limestone pulled out of a disused quarry, literally mines the environment for ‘what meaning can be found in the landscape understood to be forgotten, exploited, exhausted.’

Back at the gallery, the designs have been organised meticulously according to a grid that reflects the proportions of the space. ‘I used the grid to plot the intersections for varying fields of bars (reinforcing bars used in design) which formed the arc and created many drawings of columns with differing characteristics as a way of understanding the possibilities of the material, forms and the space.’

Some sections have been prefabricated, using reinforcing bars and laser cut steel, and employing basic construction methods. ‘I was attracted to this idea of using these very definite standard construction materials – this sort of usually invisible enabling fabric to break through the space, with all of it's repetitive surfaces exposed, something with which each part connects together to achieve a fixed, rigid and final whole.’

‘There’s something exciting about connecting elements and ideas even when seemingly opposing,’ Simpson adds. ‘The possibilities of invention and ways of extending and expressing ideas can open up before you with the more elements and materials you introduce.’ The challenge is finding a harmony between these different languages—the three dimensional sculptures, the site-specific work and the comparative flatness of the wall-hanging photo-based works. Just like an old instruction manual, Simpson’s proposition is to join up the parts and their whole.

Installation view of ‘British Landscape and the Imagination: 1970s to Now’, at Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne (2017-18)

Installation view of ‘British Landscape and the Imagination: 1970s to Now’, at Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne (2017-18), featuring the work Composition XIV (with Craig Barker) / 11 Transmitters, by Theo Simpson, 2017

(Image credit: Theo Simpson)

RITZ, 2018, by Theo Simpson

RITZ, 2018, by Theo Simpson, layered aluminium mounted chromogenic prints bonded to 18-gauge cold rolled steel sheet (British Leyland Diamond White SOL body colour/lacquer)

(Image credit: TBC)

Beech and Bache’s sculpture, 2018, by Theo Simpson

Beech and Bache’s sculpture, 2018, by Theo Simpson, layered aluminium mounted chromogenic print/archive document, mounted to spray painted (black primer variants/clear lacquer) 18-gauge cold rolled steel in spray painted (black primer) mild steel angle iron case

(Image credit: TBC)

Stephen’s sculpture, 2018, by Theo Simpson

Stephen’s sculpture, 2018, by Theo Simpson, layered aluminium mounted chromogenic print/archive document, mounted to spray painted (black primer variants/clear laquer) 18-gauge cold rolled steel in spray painted (black primer) mild steel angle iron

(Image credit: TBC)

INFORMATION

‘Part and Whole’ is on view from 19 January – 1 April. For more information, visit the FOAM website (opens in new tab) and Theo Simpson’s website (opens in new tab)

ADDRESS

FOAM 3H
Keizersgracht 609
1017 DS Amsterdam

VIEW GOOGLE MAPS (opens in new tab)

Charlotte Jansen is a journalist and the author of two books on photography, Girl on Girl (2017) and Photography Now (2021). She is commissioning editor at Elephant magazine and has written on contemporary art and culture for The Guardian, the Financial Times, ELLE, the British Journal of Photography, Frieze and Artsy. Jansen is also presenter of Dior Talks podcast series, The Female Gaze.