Born in Brooklyn in 1960, Lorna Simpson is a world-renowned artist whose work delves into themes including identity, race, history and culture. Often explored through the framework of hair, a recurring motif in her work, pieces such as Wigs (1994) a series of lithographs depicting an eerie line-up of disembodied wigs, reveal the artist’s fascination with the complex link between identity and self, particularly in terms of the historical and symbolic associations of African-American hairstyles.
Simpson’s exploration of Black hair as a source of power is the subject of her latest book, Lorna Simpson Collages. Published by Chronicle Books, it features over 150 of the artist’s distinctive collages, created between 2011 – 2017. Using cut-out advertisements from the pages of vintage Jet and Ebony magazines as her starting point, Simpson has replaced the hair of her subjects with bold gestural washes of ink and watercolour. Tall plumes of deep purple and vibrant coral transport the viewer into Simpson’s dream-like world, in which heads of hair morph into “galaxies unto themselves, solar systems, moonscapes, volcanic interiors…” (Elizabeth Alexander, Introduction to ‘Lorna Simpson Collages’)
Elsewhere in the book, heads are adorned with gems and minerals (Earth & Sky) or piled high with jumbled words and phrases. Despite these many variations, the images are bound by the fact that the ‘hair’ Simpson has bestowed each of her subjects seems to rise high above their heads, as if impossible to contain. The overall effect – both regal and otherworldly – is a joyful homage to the irrepressible stature of Black hair.