Thursday, 27 January 2022

Student artist’s aiming for ‘familiar discomfort’

A YOUNG artist who turned his student house into his subject matter during lockdown has seen his work go on show at a Caversham gallery.

Bertie Simpson, 22, is now in his final year at Camberwell College of Arts, where he is doing a degree in illustration.

Last summer his end-of-year show had to be exhibited online because of the coronavirus pandemic and was spotted by Alex Foster of the Caversham Picture Framer in Church Road.

Mr Foster said: “Bertie Simpson is a new up-and-coming artist. His new series of drawings explores the unease of the mundane during a world in lockdown. Each picture distorts stereotypical scenes with vibrant colours and twists to the perspective.”

Bertie’s drawings of his student house were originally collected together in a booklet titled Cottage Fromage but are now available as individual prints.

He said: “That house, we just nicknamed it ‘Cottage Fromage’ because it’s like a little yellow house. It’s not an actual cottage, but for London it’s cottage-like.

“When we moved in we were 19 and we just named it ‘Cottage Cheese’ because it just looked a bit sort of yellow, like Swiss cheese.

“That’s the house I was in for the first lockdown and that was the space I was exploring.”

Recalling how his creative focus adapted to life during the first coronavirus lockdown, he said: “To be honest, it was what got me through the day, doing those drawings, because I just zoned out and drew them and it was nice to enhance the space around me.”

Bertie is now working on a project that picks up from where Cottage Fromage left off, based around the concept of what he calls “non-existent spaces”.

He said: “All of those images are kind of like the familiarity but yet the discomfort of the colours and the off perspective. Lines are off and it’s slightly uncomfortable but also familiar. Familiar discomfort is what I’m going for.”

Bertie’s collection of student house drawings are characterised by their distinctive colours, soft textures and, influenced by lockdown, an absence of people.

He said: “Although this series of work has a void of human presence, the audience is invited to inhabit the space temporarily.

“As the original form of the work was a booklet, the viewer is taken on a tour of the house and can stay in a room for as long as they choose.”

Another and perhaps even more vital ingredient of Bertie’s style is the varying set of rules he imposes on himself when he is working on one of his illustrations.

He said: “In terms of my drawings I allow myself complete creative freedom to manipulate and distort existing spaces or people.

“However, I will often set myself unnecessary ‘rules’ that I stick to entirely when creating pieces with different styles. It’s quite a strict process as I become obsessive with the rules that I have set to particular pieces of work. For me, it is about precision and ensuring that the final product is how I envisioned it.

“I will often discard works where I have adapted the set-out process, even if I am happy with the outcome, and the original goal will continue to remain until executed entirely.”

Bertie’s highly focused approach has recently led to him being commissioned to produce a series of works for the Columbia Hotel in Lancaster Gate.

Four years ago, he and a friend created a skateboarding clothing company called Hamtingz, which is something he wants to continue with after he graduates from Camberwell later this year.

Bertie said: “I realised recently that I’m quite keen to go into the art world in my own graphic sort of way. I might go and work for someone doing screen printing because I do lots of that.

“And I do a little brand with one of my best mates — this little skateboarding brand — so we’re going to do a lot more of that. I’ll do everything I can that means I can spend as much time in the studio doing my own personal art. That would be a result.”

Asked to give an example of one of his self-imposed rules, Bertie said: “Let’s say I decided to do something — a certain type of line.

“Just like any type of line — and I wouldn’t be able to breach that. Like, the whole thing has to be like that, whether or not different kinds of lines might make it look better.

“At the moment I like to do things in sets of three, and I can’t really get out of it. And they’re like everything I’m doing. I just get like weirdly OCD about these things — I can’t really explain.

“Ever since I started doing art when I was 16, people have said ‘Oh, you’ve got such a distinctive style.’ And maybe that is something that has enhanced the rules — the rules that I create because it’s, like, my style. This is how I’m doing this thing, you know?”

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