SKYLER SIMPSON – STUDIO VISIT
Where are you from?
I’m from Omaha, NE. I moved to Salt Lake City, UT about two years ago.
How would you describe your work to those who might be unfamiliar with it?
I make paintings and drawings of women I know personally and invent a landscape and mythology around them. Lately I’ve sort of reframed them in my mind as witches. They’re real people who may have found empowerment through non-traditional ways. They are feared because they are outspoken, independent, and they’re usually close with other women. I like to include elements that are unnerving alongside what I think is enticing or funny. I’ve been devouring Horror movies, so that kind of shifted my vision. The backgrounds have always been fantastical and uncanny, but newer pieces are darker because of the horror influence. I photographed a friend before quarantine and she’s already been in four paintings; she’s an outspoken activist—I paint women that inspire me. I invent parts of paintings, but the relationships are really important, including the relationships between figures and my relationship to the subject(s).
How has the pandemic changed your studio process?
The day to day hasn’t changed that much, but mentally it’s been hard to find the motivation to work. At the beginning it felt selfish and pointless, but I’ve figured out ways to feel productive without necessarily producing all the time.
It’s given me time to research, watch movies, and read–so in that way it’s been helpful. My content has definitely become a bit darker; quarantine has made me think more about the effects of solitude.
Before the pandemic I was waiting tables, so then I was in a weird limbo when restaurants shut down. I’m a nanny now, which has given me structure and allowed me to schedule designated studio time. I try to get three or four full days in the studio.
What do you do to keep motivated despite challenges?
I’ve had to find new ways since quarantine began. Everything was stressful and up in the air, so I started working a lot on my ipad because it’s quick and non-committal. Then I switched to making tiny pieces on paper which was really fun and sort of mindless. I abandoned my more ambitious projects when shit hit the fan. I returned to them after the first few weeks, but I needed to let go of the pressure. I find that switching mediums usually makes me excited to make new things. I also look at a lot of artwork online and that motivates me to paint.
What are your preferred materials or ways to work?
I work with graphite and gouache on paper and also oil paint. My pieces are really laborious and my hand naturally wants to tighten everything. In undergrad, I made really small paintings, like 4 x 6 inches. I’ve scaled up my work in the past couple of years, but I still work relatively small – like 20 x 24 inches. I want to work bigger, but I need to figure out a way to make a fully fleshed-out oil painting not as grueling. I really lean into details.
Since I got an iPad, I’ve been working with Procreate and it’s been easier for me to plan out paintings. I don’t nail down every detail and colors always end up shifting, but before I was able to mock things up, I would finish a painting, decide I hated it, and repaint it a dozen times.
Who are the artists you always come back to or the artists you’re into right now?
There are always so many. Nicholas Party is a big one–I love the way he uses color and his installation work. Maja Ruznic is so ethereal and magical, I also really love Firelei Baez and Marigold Santos. I’m really influenced by a couple of close friends from undergrad— Madison Svendgard and Hannah Demma. I’m always in awe of the way Christian van Minnen renders things—I don’t know how he does it! Northern Renaissance paintings are also a big influence for me. I look at a lot of photography —- my favorites are Hellen van Meene and Julie Blackmon.
What do you have coming up and do you have any recommendations for books, music, movies, etc?
I’ll be in a four person show at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in LA next November, but otherwise my priority has been grad school applications. I’m a little nervous to apply this year, but it sounds like things might be back to normal(ish) by fall of ‘21.
I mentioned Horror movies earlier–it doesn’t really seem like a comforting thing, but watching genre films has been really cathartic. I recommend The VVitch (2015) and Suspiria (2018). I’m pretty obsessed with the Evil Dead (1981)—the practical effects at the end of the movie blew my mind. I’ve also been reading a lot of non-fiction books about witches. I wouldn’t recommend them to people for light reading—they’re about the persecution of “witches” from ancient times through Salem up to today, but they’ve put our current political climate into perspective for me. As for podcasts, The Faculty of Horror has been really fun and enlightening. I also listen to a lot of You’re Wrong About, which is about news stories that the media got wrong – the hosts are really sharp and witty.