Remembering artist Merton Simpson

Merton Simpson, a Charleston artist and musician who rose to prominence in the New York City art world, died March 9 in Manhattan. He was 84.

Merton Simpson“I have very fond memories of Merton Simpson, whom I have known since the early 1980s,” said Harriett Green, visual arts director at the South Carolina Arts Commission. “Merton was among the most respected experts in African and tribal art in the world, and the Merton Simpson Gallery is iconic as the premier showcase of African and tribal art.

“Merton was a renaissance man of sorts. In addition to being a skilled and accomplished painter, he was a noted saxophone player who had a great reputation for enlisting other New York jazz musicians to perform with him during his exhibition openings.

“Major exhibitions of his life’s work have been organized by three museums in the state in the past three decades — the Gibbes Museum of Art, the Greenville County Museum of Art and the Columbia Museum of Art. The South Carolina Arts Commission is proud to have in its own collection a seminal work, Confrontation #20, from his “Confrontation” Series from the 1960s.”

Confrontation #20Confrontation #20 was one of the first works acquired for the South Carolina Arts Commission’s State Art Collection. In the 1987 edition of the State Art Collection catalog, art historian and critic Sandra Langer noted, ” … Confrontation #20 embodies the ideals of the mythic, the heroic, and the subjective fostered by abstract expressionism of the New York School.”

Confrontation #20 tours in the exhibition  African-American Voice and can be viewed at the Black Creek Arts Center in Hartsville through March 28. The work was also chosen for the Arts Commission’s largest exhibition, Contemporary Conversations, and tours in Part II of that exhibition.

More about Simpson’s life and work is available in articles published by the Charleston Post and Courier and the New York Times.

Read the Charleston Post and Courier article.

Read the New York Times article.

View more of Simpson’s work in a video from the Greenville Museum of Art’s 2011 exhibition.

Photo of Simpson courtesy of the Merton Simpson Gallery
Confrontation #20, 1968, oil on canvas, 70 x 60