Five Minutes with visual artist Joe Simpson

Joe Simpson's exhibition 'Figure Painting: An Exhibition of Paintings of Action Figures' opens this week in East London. The exhibition explores his studies of action figures from 1970s, 1980s and 1990s that moulded many of our childhoods. We chat to Joe Simpson about his inspirations for his creative practice and find out more of what to expect at his figure painting exhibition.

Joe Simpson SoLo Craft Fair

Joe Simpson, you are known primarily as a portrait artist, what inspired you to start the action figure painting series?

It’s a bit of a departure – I’m in the middle of a project painting actors that I started in 2014, and I wanted to work on some smaller paintings to break it up.  I was looking through my old belongings in my mum’s attic and found all my old toys and felt a real urge to paint them.  I only planned to do a few, but once I started I didn’t stop - a year later I’ve made 34 paintings and ended up with enough for an exhibition. 

You describe your upcoming exhibition as a love letter to the action figures of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s - will many guest find a sense of nostalgia at the exhibition?

 I hope so.  When I found the toys again, it instantly transported me back to memories of being a child.  They’re wonderful relics of childhood and were so important to me at the time.  Lot’s of people have described a similar sensation when viewing the paintings and shared their own personal memories of playing with them.  So I hope it will appeal to a certain generation who grew up with them.

 Your artist career has given you the opportunity to work on many different projects and with many celebrities, can you pinpoint one of the best moments/projects of your career?

 That’s hard to say, but I remember feeling especially proud when my portrait of Maxi Jazz was included in the BP Portrait Award exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery.  That was a real highlight.

 Your work is very realistic, can you explain your process to create your oil paintings?

 I start with a basic pencil outline, then block the basic background colours in to give a base coat.  I then slowly build up layers adding more variations of colour and tone, with increasing details to try and create a really rich painting.  I have lots of time lapse films on my website that show the whole process!

 Do you remember the point when you decided to become an artist?

 I’ve always been interested in making creative things and choose to study Fine Art at university, but at that point I didn’t necessarily plan to be an artist.  During the course I became really absorbed in my painting, and started entering competitions and putting on small exhibitions.  I decided to give it a year or so trying to make it as an artist, and 10 years later I’m still chipping away.

 If you weren't an artist, what can you imagine yourself doing?

 I love movies, so maybe I’d like to work in film in some capacity if I wasn’t painting.  I try to make my paintings look as cinematic as possible.

 So your exhibition 'Figure Painting: An Exhibition of Paintings of Action Figures' opens this week - please tell us more!

 Figure Painting is showing at The Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, from Feb 24th – March 5th.  Open everyday 11am – 7pm – Admission is free!  It’s a totally independent show, so I’ll be there practically the whole time – come and say hello!

 How can our readers view more of your work?



Joe Simpson SoLo Craft Fair
Joe Simpson SoLo Craft fair