Princess Simpson Rashid’s newest show, Constructed Narratives in Red, Black and White is the logical conclusion to what might be termed “phase one” of the artist’s investigations into formal and chromatic reduction. Her works, which take as their points of art historical reference Motherwell, Mondrian and Kandinsky, are the unexpected result of research she was doing for a large commissioned piece several years ago. “I became very interested in Mondrian’s use of space and distilled color,” explains Rashid .
Thus, she began this new, red, black and white geometric body of work with small studies: "The ‘thing’ that got me going,” Rashid explains with a smile, “was a cartoon—Samuri Jack.”
Samuri Jack is minimally rendered in a reduced palette of reds, blacks and oranges (overall) and the drawings are very geometric. Cinematic in scope, and reliant on visual cues more than dialogue, once Simpson Rashid mentions the connection to the cartoon, it is very clear. However, unlike many other artists who take cues from popular culture, Rashid succeeds in rendering images that have a relationship to their catalyst, but are still wholly unto themselves as paintings.
“I strive for poetry, and no, it is not for everyone,” says the Northeast Florida-based artist, of her process and goals. Indeed, if poetry is vigorous and introspective, if it excavates the personal and turns it into the symbolic, then Rashid has passed her own litmus test. Recalling her background in the sport of fencing, the works seem to bristle with bottled—and then intentionally released—gestures. The works range in size from (approximately) five by seven inches to (approximately) three by five feet. This disparity in size is important. The works leap from small, sketchbook-sized studies, to large works that seek to preserve the minimal monumentality of the studies. The work also shifts from mostly paper (there are some small studies on canvas) to canvas itself, and this shift reinforces the conversation around the physicality of the works; how the artist must shift the very boundaries of her body in the attempt to scale up.
This tension—which Rashid is very interested in—creates a feeling of controlled calm. Works like Red/Black Study (1-3) are tiny paintings but dealing with massive shapes, and small shifts in tonality and paint saturation destabilize the monumental-feeling image, further heightening the contradictions within the small space of the picture. These feelings evolve for the viewer who traverses the perimeter of the gallery space, and the larger-scale works (approximately two feet by two feet and larger) showcase more complex compositions, with multiple materials and methods deployed--including spray paint and sgraffito.
These larger works feel as if the artist is coding secret messages into her work. Indeed, as she writes in the statement accompanying the show: “For the past two years I have been undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Because of this internal battle, the color red […] has taken in the symbolism of blood and life. Red is a powerful color and it most reflects the chaos that was growing in my body at the time the series began.” So titles like Phoenix Rising, become not only a mythos tying her to the Abstract Expressionists (there are several forms that might be a rising bird), but also that (perhaps) link up with her own rising hopes