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  • Merton Simpson

    United States

    Art Brokerage: Merton Simpson American Artist: b. 1928-2013. Merton Simpson was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Between the ages of six and eleven he spent much of his time in and out of hospitals receiving treatment for diphtheria and rheumatic fever. During this time he started to doodle and sketch to pass the time. His interest in art grew and he began drawing and sketching in earnest. At the age of thirteen Simpson was discovered by local artist William Halsey who took Simpson under his wing. For the next four years, Halsey taught Simpson the basics of painting and introduced him to the concept of abstract art. Jean Robertson Fleming, another local artist, was also instrumental in discovering Simpson’s talent and helping him hone his skills. In the midst of a still segregated South, Simpson was not allowed to take art classes at the city run Gibbes Gallery where artist William Halsey worked. Simpson frequently went in to privately work with his mentor Halsey. Simpson attended Burke High School in Charleston. After graduating in 1949 Halsey, his wife Corrie McCallum and former director of the Charleston Museum Laura Bragg sponsored Merton Simpson’s first solo art show. Two receptions for the art show were held; "one for whites and one for whites who didn't mind coming to a reception with blacks. Simpson became the first African American to receive a prestigious five-year fellowship from the Charleston Scientific and Cultural Education fund and left South Carolina in 1949 for New York City after he finished high school. He attended New York University for the first year and got accepted by Cooper Union. He took classes at NYU during the day and Cooper Union at night. Simpson also got a job at the frame shop of Herbert Benevy. Many well-known artists came to the frame shop and in time critiqued Simpson's work and developed a relationship with him. It was at NYU where Simpson became acquainted with Hale Woodruff, William Baziotes and Robert Motherwell. The New York School was also having its impact during that time and Merton Simpson came in close contact with Franz Kline, Max Weber and Willem de Kooning at the frame shop. Out of all the colleges Simpson attended in New York, he credited the frame shop for giving him his real education. Simpson was a member of the Spiral Group which was formed by fellow artists and colleagues Romare Bearden and Hale Woodruff. The original purpose of Spiral was to gather African American artists to discuss political and social issues, the Civil Rights Movement. The group was formed in part as a response to A Philip Randolph's call for a "new visual order" that would be created in part by artists' contribution to the Black Freedom struggle. Members of the group worked together in obtaining buses to travel to the March on Washington in 1963. The focus of the group shifted from a more explicitly political trend to one that was more aesthetic and artistic. Bearden introduced Spiral members to collage work and the black and white artwork the group created reflected the political turmoil of the time. Listings wanted.

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