Fallen Through The Cracks – Black Artists in History: Merton Simpson
#FallenThroughTheCracks – Merton Simpson was born on September 20, 1928, in Charleston, South Carolina. He was an abstract expressionist painter and African and tribal art collector and dealer. Growing up in a segregated South, Simpson was not allowed to take art classes at the city-run Gibbes Gallery where his mentor artist William Melton Halsey worked. In 1949, his wife Corrie, and former director of the Charleston Museum, Laura Bragg, sponsored his first solo art show. They held two separate receptions; “one for whites and one for whites who didn’t mind coming to a reception with blacks.”
Simpson was the first African American to receive a prestigious five-year fellowship from the Charleston Scientific and Cultural Education fund and left South Carolina for New York City after finishing high school. He took classes at New York University (NYU) during the day and at Cooper Union at night also working at a framing shop where well-known artists would frequent. He credited the frame shop for giving him his “real education”.
In 1951 his work appeared in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and in 1954 his work was displayed in the Younger American Painters exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum. The Harlem Riot of 1964 which Simpson witnessed firsthand, had a particular impact on his painting. The artist responded by creating the so-called “Confrontation” series of paintings that featured schematized black and white faces inter-meshed in an intense encounter.
The Merton D. Simpson Gallery of Modern and Tribal Arts is famous for its exceptional collection of Tribal arts and for artworks by his contemporaries. As his knowledge and experience in the field grew he eventually became known as one of the most prominent dealers of traditional African art in the world and the international art world at large.
Merton Simpson died on March 9, 2013, in New York City. He was 84 years old.
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