Profile: career

Career profile: Joe Simpson

'Joe in his studio'.  Copyright: artist

'Joe in his studio'. Copyright: artist

'Scroobius Pip', oil on canvas, 60 x 60 cm, 2010/11.  Copyright: artist

'Scroobius Pip', oil on canvas, 60 x 60 cm, 2010/11. Copyright: artist

Since graduating from Leeds University in 2007 Joe Simpson has developed his craft as a painter blending his practice with commissions and more personal projects. With his show ’Musician Portraits’ open in London, and his portait of Maxi Jazz in the BP Portrait Award 2011, he takes time out to fill us in on his career so far.

Richard Taylor: What have you done since graduating?

Joe Simpson: Immediately after graduating I started work on my first big exhibition, which was called ‘Almost There' - the project was a collaboration with twelve different singers and bands who wrote an original soundtrack for my paintings. Each painting was exhibited with headphones beside each piece so that you could simultaneously listen to the song and view the painting. This show was funded by the Arts Council England and Audio Techinca.

After this show I was approached by P&O to create a new artwork for their new cruise ship Azura. I painted eight large scale paintings of New York for the Manhattan bar. This took about a year to complete.

After this I worked on several music promos and short films before starting work on ‘Musician Portraits'.

RT: Do you sill think of your career development in terms of an academic year?

JS: Kind of, I normally work on projects that have a start and end date - and I see my career divided up into these sections, as each project probably lasting a little over a year.

RT: What is your view on art education today, is it a placing for artists to make mistakes and learn from them through self-criticality, art history/theory awareness and tutorial discussion - or should there be an actual discourse around the practising of a 'skill'?

JS: I think in the early stages of art education teaching skills is really useful and probably neglected in the UK. During my degree I spent a year studying abroad in Toronto, where there was a lot more practical skills being taught, whether that be painting techniques or how to use Photoshop. I've probably learnt the most by actually ‘doing' though; having the time to just create art is the best way to learn and obviously an education context is a great structured way to do this.

RT: Have you stayed in the same city where you studied - what was your decision in moving or staying put?

JS: I left Leeds straight away, most of my friends were also leaving and that's probably what influenced my decision the most. I moved to Manchester where I had a big social group, it also seemed a big enough city to focus on my art. In 2010 I moved to London because I wanted a change, and it seemed a great place to pursue my artistic career.

RT: What did you perceive you might do after college?

JS: I always hoped to do something creative and thought I'd probably end up in design in some way.

RT: Is this divergent or convergent with what you are doing now?

JS: I didn't expect to be working full time as an artist, but it's what has ended up happening.

RT: What is the worst job you have done since leaving full-time study?

JS: I haven't actually done another job apart from being an artist since I graduated. But this entails a lot of different elements, from putting on and promoting shows to liaising with clients and building pop-up galleries. I guess I've been lucky.

RT: What is the best thing that you took from this?

JS: I've had to take on a lot of commissions and work that I didn't particularly want to do, but I needed the money. I think this makes you appreciate the time when you're working on projects that you choose to do.

RT: When you were studying, what advice and encouragement was missing, and can you provide this information in hindsight?

JS: I think maybe the practical workings of being an artist as a career. I've had to learn about gallery systems, funding and tax etc. it would have been useful to learn more about these during my degree. I've made plenty of mistakes and mis-steps along the way, but it's all a learning process.

RT: What other information or advice can you provide, which is relevant to your profession that you would pass on to others completing their arts based degrees now?

JS: I think to not be afraid to self-promote and put your work out there as much as possible. There are so many competitions to enter, galleries to submit work to, funding opportunities to apply for. The Internet is also an amazing tool to get your work out there. I've had a lot of great opportunities from making my website really visible - I genuinely believe that without the Internet I would never have been able to make a living as an artist.

RT: If you had only one sentence to provide an encouraging tip for new graduates what would it be?

JS: Be ambitious, take risks and don't be afraid to make mistakes.


Joe Simpson is a figurative painter currently living and working in London. His paintings have been shown both nationally and internationally, including prestigious venues such as The National Portrait Gallery, Manchester City Art Gallery, Cornerhouse, Manchester and The House of Commons. Simpson works primarily in oil paint to create realistic images that utilise the conventions of cinematography to present ‘staged', fictitious scenes where time has been stopped and extended. These frozen moments are deliberately ambiguous, inviting the viewer to inject their own emotions, motivations and narrative context into the scene, thereby avoiding limiting interpretation.

Simpson has completed several large scale commissions for prestigious clients, including a series of paintings for P&O, Standard Chartered and the Professional Football Association. His work is owned by notable collectors and celebrities. His largest exhibition ‘Almost There' received funding from the Arts Council England and corporate sponsorship from Audio Technica. »

Richard Taylor

First published: October 2011

Comments on this article

Dear a-n, Brilliant article, especially for me. I am currently writing a dissertation (I am year 3, BA Fine Art), entitled The Role Of the Gallery in the Career of an Artist. I am trying to canvas views, opinions of the 'best' route. So far only one or two approached galleries are open to talking to me. The vast majority have been less helpful and are making it difficult. I need to know the mechanics of the art market in order to provide the structure to part of my work, therefore, reading this article has provided some light. It is so good to see a success story and something that has happened relatively quickly. Thank you, Colin Chaplin.

posted on 2011-10-29 by Colin Chaplin

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