Essays: Brotherhood

BROTHERHOOD | BARRY DUMKA

Despite our current commitment to pluralism, to tolerance without boundaries, there is a countervailing force in society toward tribalism, and closed communities. People want to be among their kind, to conform to standards of faith and fashion and fetish that ties them to a particular crowd. In Brotherhood, G. Elliott Simpson explores his own private club of characters, these avatars of his own grief and fear and longing. So many pretty boys (and one ethereal female deity) punked out to serve Simpson’s creative curiousity for what divides us as well as what brings us together.

Through my opportunity of working with Simpson, I regard Brotherhood as a personal narrative told as theatre of the macabre. Without sounding the death drum too loudly, exhibition viewers should keep in mind when looking at all these hallowed and hollowed out figures how much Geoff’s extreme health crisis – most critically his coma but also the long drape of hazy awareness that fell across his life through that transition – matters to the context of the images. Such was their birthing place when Simpson first took communion with death. These black-stained figures are characters, or archetypes, that stayed with him in the shadows of that transformative experience providing him comfort and solidarity.

Still, the individual pieces are also animated by Simpson’s fascination with duality and role-playing which marks the work for this time. It seems everyone now has a double life, or even multiple selves, that they eagerly explore, particularly through the web world which exists for many as an alternate reality. Simpson chose all of his models through on-line profiles – so many people trying to be something more than their ordinary selves. Simpson was mindful of how Caravaggio would select a village prostitute to model as his Madonna and rent boys to serve as his saints. Simpson inverts the order by throwing dirt on his models rather than brushing it off. There’s some kinky fun to be had here as beauty becomes the beast and athletic humans are made into feral animals or dark angels. The images are subversive in more ways than one.

But it is the poignancy of the work that I most admire. Whatever their devilish charms, many of these figures seem to bear some quiet burden that is beyond our understanding. They sin and suffer in silence. Yet the physical distortions and fetish flavouring of these isolated creatures, alone in their sacred spaces, is compelling. Their latent humanity is not lost on us. That we can find common ground with these gothic figures is testament to Simpson’s power to enchant.