Joe Simpson - 'Everything is Electrified'

Posted by Amanda Coban on Monday, January 30, 2012 Under: Interviews/Features.

On Friday 27th January, I visited Joe Simpson's 'Everything is Electrified' exhibition on Camden High Street, and seized the opportunity to chat with him regarding his work. Below is the transcribed interview, which will shortly be trimmed in to a feature for The Harker online arts magazine (watch this space..!)

Joe's website: 
Joe's trailer for the show: 
The Harker online magazine: 

Why did you choose this particular subject matter of pylons?

After spending a year chasing down people’s management for the ‘Musician Portraits’ exhibition, I was really keen to do something where I could just go in to my studio and work without getting other people involved. I began to do a few different things, starting with trees and progressing with pylons. I’ve always liked the static form of wired pylons and the transmission tower structures against the flowing skies. I got a bit carried away and ended up doing quite a few, and at a much faster rate than the previous project. There are around thirty paintings.. a few people thought I went a bit nuts.

With ‘Musician Portraits’, it took a couple of weeks to finish one painting, but these paintings I could get three or four a day done, so it was quite a different change of pace. Then I found this space and realised it was available in January, so I thought I might as well put on an exhibition. There was such a huge amount of emphasis on my last exhibition, I felt quite a bit of pressure from it, whereas this one was a lot quicker and more unusual.

Whilst travelling on a train and looking out of the window as the scenery goes past with the pylons, I find it quite cinematic at times. I think it ties in with these movie roads, sepia sunsets and altered colours of big skies.  In the film ‘Everybody’s Fine’ with Robert De Niro, a character explains how everyone’s conversations pass along these wires, which struck me as quite a romantic image. I think there is something about trying to draw attention to the mundane and make it beautiful and interesting. They're the "in between" spaces when you're on the train.

I understand people have come in and vented their dislike for pylons?

Some people say “I don’t like them, but you’ve made them look nice”. A lot of people have come in and said they've always liked pylons, almost as a confession. I've even discovered there is a 'Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society'. I wasn’t thinking about the issues that pylons create; a lot of people argue that they can make you ill. I didn’t really think about that, I just thought they were pretty on sky. Having an exhibition like this where people will walk off the street, they’ll quite often stick their head in, look around, come no further than the door and decide to walk out. Pylons definitely divide opinion. People that have been expecting the subject matter have been wholly positive.

In this exhibition, you’ve embraced a variety of media and created a large monochrome pylon from black tape, although I notice it isn’t as flawless as your paintings; was that a decided contrast?

That’s down to logistics. Not all the paintings are flawless; you can see marks where I went wrong, and I did decide to keep a few of the mistakes intentionally. Perhaps maybe only I can tell they are there. I wanted to keep a part of the process in the picture; you can see some of the ruler marks where it joins, and where the ink leaks a little bit. The large taped piece at the back was a last minute decision a couple of days before I came in; I projected an image and thought it was a cool way to use the space.

Why did you decide to include faint text in a couple of your paintings?

In some of the earlier ones, I wanted writing on the blue skies so I’ve included some song lyrics. There are some lyrics from a song by Ben Sollee [ inspired the show’s title, “Everything is Electrified” as well as other songs; it helps to tie in with the image I was thinking about. I always listen to music as I paint; sometimes podcasts, but I normally have a song or a mood in mind. A lot of the earlier paintings have song titles as their titles; it’s a little nod to the musicians, plus I don’t want to think of my own.

How did the Private View go?

Quite a lot of people came down which was good; you can’t help but worry at the last minute, because it was all self-organised. There were some good sales, and it’s a good space to have a private view. I had really struggled to find a place for the last exhibition because I wanted somewhere really cool so I trailed all over the internet to find different project spaces to use and take over. Then I found this and they said I could use it for free, but I think it’s being turned into a private gallery shortly after my exhibition. It’s quite underused at the moment though; it’s part of Camden Town Unlimited (CTU) but from what I know, it’ll be renovated into a commercial gallery.

Tell me about your inclusion of the projector in this exhibition, and your homemade trailer for it.

The trailer for the show I made when I should’ve been hanging paintings. I normally make a little video as a different way to promote and push the show. I decided it would be nice to have something projected as a change of movement against the static paintings. As I mentioned, it relates to when you’re watching the view from the window and driving past pylons. When I drove to Wales to take the ‘Musician Portraits’ to a show, I started filming pylons on the way past and thought “I’m going to cut this to music and make it look nice.” I wanted it to look quite rough and ready. I think it works well in the space, but obviously it looks better when it’s darker.

I noticed you’ve attempted some ‘guerilla marketing’? 

I took loads of posters out with me one night with the idea that I’d post them around Camden, but it became a put-up-a-poster-and-drink-a-pint scenario, so it was more of a pub crawl. By the end we'd stuck one up inside the tube. I think ‘guerilla marketing’ is a bit grand for what I actually did. Although people did text me and say they've seen my posters in the pub and that it must be getting good coverage, but I had to admit that I did that; I didn’t have an army of people doing it for me.

You got the ball rolling on this show during the set up of 'Musician Portraits'. Is the ball rolling already for something new?

Not quite yet, as 'Musician Portraits' is going to be shown again in a couple of places; it’s in Wales at the moment, and then it’s going to the Royal Albert Hall in the summer. I might paint a few more musicians for that to give it a new edge.  I’m illustrating a children’s book that my brother has written, which is called “The Inner Monkey”. The synopsis is about every child having their inner monkey which makes them naughty, but it needs to be tamed. I’ll be working on those things and on an advert for a little bit, so I’m plodding along and letting the next one develop. I had spent such a long in one project, so it’s nice to just do little things at the moment and then move on to something new in time. 

 ...Thanks for your time, Joe!



In : Interviews/Features. 

Tags: joe simpson everything electrified paintings exhibition camden london interview harker musician portraits ben sollee 
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