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Lorna Simpson is an American artist whose work navigates subjects including identity, race, history and gender. 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.

Jet#11,’58_LSimpson_2012 copy
Jet #11, ’58, 2012
Blue, 2011

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 and 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 blue and vibrant yellow 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’)

The Sportsman, 2011
Jet Double, 2012
JetCensus_LSimpson_2012_Striations (1)
Jet Census, 2012

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.

Earth & Sky #2, 2016
Earth & Sky #3, 2016

Lorna Simpson Collages is published by Chronicle Books

Artworks Lorna Simpson
Words Emma de Clercq



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