Mary Simpson: No Island Is An Island

Mary Simpson: No Island Is An Island








Mary Simpson’s show at Haynes Court (a space founded in Chicago by curator Jessica Cochran) reunites the artist with a pair of earlier works once thought lost and recently recovered. Here they are shown together with a selection of newer work. Located in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood, the gallery stands a stone’s throw away from Henry C. Palmisano Park—originally a limestone quarry opened in 1836. In response to the gallery’s location, and keeping true to her works’ focus on nature and mythology, Simpson figuratively excavates both the quarry and the underworld of classical Greek mythology by taking this material brought out of the earth and plastering it on the gallery walls— seen here in the form of limestone-based Venetian plaster. Simpson spent the summer apprenticing under master plasterers in Brooklyn and recently trained a handful of artists at the gallery, resulting in the walls covered with a subtle stone texture that lends her work both a sense of warmth and of the classical age.

The newer works here highlight the artists’ lyrical hand, brushing varying thicknesses of lines and strokes through oils and pastels on board and paired with forms of geometry. The geometry comes through as border and block of color superimposed over a background of scratched lines, or as parallel white bars passing through large calligraphic brushstrokes. In many, the opacity and texture of her marks have an almost halftone or offset quality to them— as if image and color were transferred from one board to another, such as seen in the work Elena. Everywhere, the hard-backing of the wood panel, especially with the work Joan, acts as a perfect substrate to capture primitive mark-making— leaving an almost prehistoric impression on the viewer. In Esther, orange leaf-like forms on the lower edge of the frame echo the artists’ recent works with flowers. In the paired mixed media work Untitled (2008), its geometry anchors what is seen in the recent work, with the addition of thinly-drawn arcs and angles, as well as colored collaged pieces of paper. 

As a body of work, the recovery of the artists’ older work shown together here with the recent work lends itself well to the concept of excavating the limestone of the nearby quarry. The span of time between 2008 and 2021, however, may seem like a blink of an eye in comparison between 2021 and the original founding of the quarry in 1836. That having been said, much can happen in such a short period of time, where lives can change at a moment’s notice, when what we’ve grown accustomed to changes. Simpson’s show offers us the opportunity to meditate on such periods of time, and how through understanding the endurance of something such as what is buried in the earth, along with her own mark-making, we can connect to something a bit deeper and more cathartic.

1. Elena, 2021
    28 3/4 x 23 1/4 inches
    Oil and pastel on panel

2.Edie, 2021
    28 3/4 x 23 1/4 inches
    Oil on panel

3.Joan, 2021
    28 3/4 x 23 1/4 inches
    Oil and colored pencil on maple panel

4. Esther, 2021
    28 3/4 x 23 1/4 inches
    Oil and colored pencil on panel

5. untitled (2), 2008
    14 1/8 x 16 3/8 x x 1 1/2 inches
    Mixed media on paper

6. Installation detail, No Island Is An Island
    at Haynes Court

7. Installation view, No Island Is An Island
    at Haynes Court

All photography by Useful Art Services
All images © and courtesy the Artist and Gallery