“Smoke and Mirrors” at Haines Gallery

Haines Gallery presents David Simpson: Smoke and Mirrors,  their 11th solo exhibition with the Bay Area painter.

At once reductive and radical, Simpson’s paintings weave together impulses of minimalism with those of the California Light and Space movement, resulting in a singular creative vision.

Born in 1928, Simpson has been based in the Bay Area since the 1950s, graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute (then known as the California School of Fine Arts) in 1956. Since then, he has been a significant figure to the West Coast art scene, co-founding the artist-run Six Gallery—where Allen Ginsberg gave his first public reading of Howl—alongside contemporaries such as Jay DeFeo and Wally Hedrick, and teaching at UC Berkeley 25 for years. Now 95, he continues to create new work.

Smoke and Mirrors features a selection of paintings created between 1987 and 2019 using interference and metallic paints, two materials the artist has returned to time and again. The exhibition’s name, shared with a 2013 painting included in the show, points to Simpson’s evocative, irreverent titling, as well as the shifting, reflective qualities of the works on view.

The earliest works in the show, created in the late 1980s using metallic acrylic paint, are monochromatic canvases in shades of bronze, copper, and steely blue. Each is the result of Simpson’s meticulous layering of up to 30 coats of paint, stopping in between each layer to sand the canvas down to a velvety finish. The rich, complex surfaces of paintings like Bronze Tondo (1990), so named for its circular shape, appear burnished and patinaed, playing on its metallic qualities.

These celebrated works appear to shimmer and alter in hue as they respond to changes in light, environment, the position of the viewer, and even the works around them. In Interference Triple (1991), a creamy, pearlescent surface gives way to iridescent flashes of pinks, blues, and yellows.

Smoke and Mirrors includes several of these early, breakthrough interference paintings from the artist’s archives, some of which are only now being exhibited for the first time, shown alongside works created just four years ago.