Michael Simpson: Drawing towards painting – selected works on paper coming soon

Michael Simpson: Drawing towards painting – selected works on paper
6 May – 17 September 2023

Michael Simpson (b. 1940) is one of Britain’s most well-known and respected contemporary painters, who has, for most of his career, lived and worked in Bradford-on-Avon, ten miles from the Holburne Museum.

Known for his large scale, pared-back paintings, Simpson’s primary concern is with ‘the mechanics of painting’. He says, ‘despite the subjective references in my work, I believe a painting must move beyond its subject and, for me, formal considerations are paramount’. This distinct artistic language produces expansive works that ask questions of the very nature of painting itself.

This exhibition, however, focuses on the intimate drawings that underpin Simpson’s painting practice. Across the last five decades, Simpson has produced thousands of drawings, most of which have never been seen outside his studio.

Drawing towards painting will bring together more than 70 of these intimate works on paper for the first time. Made in a range of different media on a variety of materials, these drawings reveal how Simpson’s ideas emerge and grow over time.

The exhibition will reflect Simpson’s career-long interest in the repetition of certain images, in particular the Leper Squint, the Confessional, and the Bench, each reflecting in their different ways, his impassioned belief in ‘the infamy of religious history’.

A leper squint was a feature built into the walls of medieval churches across Europe, allowing sufferers of leprosy and other ‘undesirables’ to view the altar while remaining outside and hidden from the congregation. The Confessional, an object of inherent power and impoverishment, is for Simpson ‘one of the lowest points of human culture’, and the Bench, the painter’s homage to the Neapolitan philosopher, Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) whose advanced ideas of cosmology caused him to be tortured and executed by the Catholic Church.

Holburne director, Chris Stephens, said: “We are so excited to be the first public institution to focus on Michael Simpson’s powerful and beautiful works on paper. They reveal his engagement with his chosen subjects with an intimacy quite distinct from his monumental paintings. It is so important for us at the Holburne to celebrate one of the greatest talents in our region.”

Michael Simpson will be in conversation with the artist Mark Wallinger at the Holburne Museum 8 June at 7pm. For details visit www.holburne.org

In association with Southern and Partners.

Generously supported by Hiroko and Jim Sherwin

With additional support from Art’Us Collectors’ Collective, Holburne’s Contemporary Programme Donors, Director’s Circle, Patrons and Friends


Michael Simpson (b.1940) lives and works in Wiltshire, UK. He studied at Bournemouth College of Art (1958-60) and Royal College of Art, London (1960-63). Simpson’s work is in numerous public collections including; Tate, UK; Arts Council England, UK; Arts Council of Northern Ireland, IE; Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, UK; British Council Collection, London, UK; David Roberts Arts Foundation, London, UK; The Ekard Collection, NL; Schumann Collection, Aachen, DE; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, DK; Stuyvesant Foundation, NL; Ulster Museum and Art Gallery, Belfast, IE; Start Museum, Shanghai, CN; Lim Collection, Hong Kong, HKG . Selected recent solo exhibitions include; Michael Simpson, Nosbaum Reding, Luxembourg (2021); New Paintings, Blain|Southern, London, UK (2019); Selected Paintings, Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai, CN, (2018); Squint, Blain |Southern, Berlin , DE (2017); Flat Surface Painting, Spike Island, Bristol, UK (2016); Study #6, David Roberts Arts Foundation, London, UK (2014); Simpson is the recipient of several awards including the Arts Foundation Fellowship in Painting (2000) and the John Moores Painting Prize (2016) for his painting Squint 19. www.michael-simpson.co.uk

The Holburne Museum’s mission statement is ‘Changing Lives Through Art’, signalling its commitment to opening up the enjoyment of art to people of all ages and from every walk of life. The Holburne was founded in 1882 with the gift of Sir William Holburne’s collection of 16th– and 17th-century Italian and Dutch paintings, silver, sculpture, furniture, porcelain and diverse objets d’art of national and international significance. That founding gift has been augmented with a collection of 18th-century paintings by such artists as Gainsborough, Lawrence, Ramsay, Stubbs and Zoffany. Set within the historic Sydney Pleasure Gardens, the Museum reopened in May 2011 after ambitious renovations and with a new, award-winning extension by Eric Parry Architects. The Holburne has since secured a national reputation as an outstanding museum which holds critically acclaimed exhibitions. Its programme of exhibitions, commissions and events sets out to bring to Bath great art of all periods and from around the world, seeking to set the art of the past in dialogue with contemporary practice in exciting and dynamic new ways. More at https://www.holburne.org/


Michael in his studio. Photograph courtesy of Peter Mallet in association with Southern & Partners


Tracy Jones, Brera PR – tracy@brera-london.com / 01702 216 658 / 07887 514 98