Odyssey of Abstraction

Sunset City, Princess Simpson Rashid (On this issue’s cover)

Princess Simpson Rashid’s show at The Vault journeys through the expression of a personal art philosophy

Envision this: controlled spontaneity. What would that look like? How can the two states coexist? The amusing challenge that is an oxymoron like this makes for excellent art fodder. Princess Simpson Rashid has been exploring this concept through various series of multi-media works over the last two decades. For this celebrated local artist, whose pieces have been widely commissioned, exhibited, and collected in the US, UK, and Portugal, the idea of controlled spontaneity has interesting personal layers — she has a Physics degree (from Georgia State University), and is a longtime competitive sport-fencer and fencing coach.
The thread of scientific experimentation and athletic strategizing are woven into Rashid’s life and art philosophy. Her current series of minimalist, geometric abstracts are her most personal to date and read as poems to her enigmatic pursuit. These, and select, earlier works that informed them, will be on display October 19 – 31 at San Marco’s The Vault at 1930 in a show titled Odyssey of Abstraction: Princess Simpson Rashid.
Rashid’s art career seems to have stemmed very organically from her background in science. The Atlanta native studied art in Puerto Rico after college, and then immediately married her instincts into paintings that illustrated the relationship between art and science. Landing here in Jacksonville, she credits the award of an Art Ventures grant from the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida and her subsequent show at the Museum of Science and History (MOSH) in 2005 with being a “game-changer.”
“It was the first time I was treated like ‘this is important work you’re working on,’” she says, “and I will always have a special place in my heart for both organizations.”

Abacus YRBW1, Princess Simpson Rashid

Since then, Rashid has both directly and indirectly experimented with “solutions,” as she calls them, to the problems presented by the art-science relationship; to the act of visually communicating the tension of controlled and spontaneous ideas, processes and aesthetic forms. Because talking about both science and art can easily become esoteric, Rashid has

committed to clear communication in her artwork. She views the artist as the servant of an idea to the viewer, a model she partially attributes to salesman and author Zig Ziglar’s sales paradigm — salesman as servant, problem-solver — in his seminal book, Secrets to Closing the Sale. “It’s not up to them to get to me, it’s up to me as an artist … it’s my responsibility to communicate to people in terms they can understand,” she says. “Every group will understand it in a different way and I should be flexible enough to do that, to communicate like that.”

Rashid aims to create visual poetry that everyone can read.
Working from her studio at CoRK Arts District, her dominant current vocabulary is simple shapes — mainly squares, rectangles, and circles, because, she laughs, “I find triangles very difficult, they mess me up” — and gestures such as drips, pours, sprays, and brushstrokes. Her palette is distinctly simple, too, with one series of yellow, black and white and one using red, black and white (a blue, black and white series is to come). Her abstract pieces always start with active gestures and “total chaos; I throw stuff at [the canvas], spray it with water, drip paint over it …,” then she takes pause, finds a story, and goes back in to construct the space in a way that will tell it. She calls the current series Constructed Narratives. “My goal would be to keep some spontaneity and lightness — don’t kill that — but juxtapose that with sharp,

Goliath, Princess Simpson Rashid

concrete, clean lines,” she says. The process is inspired by an Eastern perspective on spatial design, a gestalt image created by ‘the right mark.’ As she grapples with controlling the chaotic marks, she describes her goal as a containment of energy and movement that feels in perfect, albeit very tense, equilibrium. “I want to get the viewer to feel that tension, but also have it work in an aesthetically-pleasing way,” she says, adding, “Not in a way that’s flat, but more ‘Oh wow — where she put that shape, that mark, that color, if that weren’t right there, everything would change!’” In other words, it’s pricey real estate on her picture plane.
The very sparse color, line, and shape combination of the Constructed Narratives series is a

clear evolution from the accompanying works in the Odyssey show. These pieces stand in powerful, stark contrast to her busier, smaller studies and their precursors, her elaborate Nautilus and Abacus series. But the equations present within all the works (and that is meant literally in the case of some pieces where mathematic and scientific equations are layered into, and help construct, the composition of the space) read similarly as a study in energy and thought. The minimalist pieces are more distilled.

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By Meredith T. Matthews

Author: Arbus

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