London

D.J. Simpson

Entwistle Gallery

The main gallery at Entwistle is your typical art space—boxy and white, with a stonelike tile floor and a big window onto the street. A false wall runs across part of this window, but enough of it remains clear to allow the space to be flooded with natural light. With its uncomplicated openness and even illumination, the gallery tries hard to be a blank receptacle. D.J. Simpson’s exhibition of three works messes all of this up considerably, breaking the symmetry of the room and diverting the viewer’s path through the space. It also contrives to shift the light source, using the polished aluminum surface of Schnörkel painting (all works 2000) to reflect the light falling on it from the doorway back into the space. All three works are large, the smallest being approximately nine by twenty feet, and they stand directly on the floor, kept almost upright by a combination of backing struts and the walls themselves. Nothing sits square in the space. Instead, the works reconfigure it, running in front of the window, blocking off a corner, and pulling the line of the gallery’s edge out into the room. The works are multipaneled and use various types of board, each of which is also laminated differently. Rojo Pesando, red Formica on chipboard, has several swirling lines, but is also crossed with a number of long, straight marks that are broad and that cut deeply into the chipboard behind the surface. All of this working is quite open and emphasizes the flatness of the laminate. By contrast, the dense collection of irregular diagonal lines that seem to reach back into the white ColorCore of Blue Milk imply figural recession. These lines are set against other areas that have been dug out of the plywood right through to the backing sheet of blue ColorCore and even, in places, penetrate it to reveal the blackness of the unlit, inaccessible space behind.

Strictly speaking these are not paintings, since there is no paint involved in their making. Yet as monochrome surfaces carrying a variety of marks, they engage with the continuing dialogue between illusion and object, representation and physical presence that is carried on in painting’s name. Simpson works with an electric router, using a range of bits and carefully controlling the amount of pressure applied to produce marks of varying width and depth. Depending on the type of board being worked—a homogeneous MDF, a layered birch ply, or a consistently varied chipboard—these gougings can lead to radically different outcomes: slight changes in tone; dark patches where the density of resin has snagged the bit, causing the heat to burn the wood; or highly figured patterns within an otherwise sharp-edged rut. In some cases, as with certain areas of the aluminum surface of Schnörkel painting, there is little more than a scuffing that renders the mirrored smoothness opaque. The added joke is that, while the puncturing of Blue Milk discloses only nothing or nothingness, the delicate feathering of Schnörkel painting conversely hides nothing, since we are able to walk around and look at it from the back as well. Simpson’s works are deliciously ambivalent. Their scale, weight, and monochrome density, coupled with the finely controlled exactness of the lines that figure their surfaces, evoke a quiet stillness. But what is visible in their surfaces is the effort involved, the marks of a physical attack on the integrity of the laminated panels that must have involved a great deal of noise and smell. Simpson’s skill lies not least in keeping these two aspects in balance, never allowing either one to dominate.

Michael Archer