Take a quick scan of Drew Simpson’s painting and you’ll see why a six-page spread in Canadian Art magazine describes his work as “lurid and yet studious … while glamourizing baser, rougher instincts and murderous impulses.” While an art commentator in Berlin and New York cited “mortality, elusive beauty, brutal truth.”
Dead animals on luxe upholstery. A lounge chair on fire. Medusa-like whiskey glasses. Drew shrugs, “I’m comfortable with themes of loss and finality,” says Drew. “They’re not downers for me – I actually find them settling and comforting.”
Having spent years working in Toronto, Barcelona, Morocco and Berlin, he settled in Stratford in the summer of 2016. “It was just time to come back to Canada,” he says, sitting in his second-floor studio overlooking Market Square. “I’d been in Berlin six years – the arts scene had changed and I was getting bored. Professionally, I chose to relocate in Stratford for the artistic atmosphere – in a lot of ways it reminds me of Berlin and other European cities with the centre square surrounded with historic buildings and walkable waterfront nearby.
“On the personal level, my mother still lives in the area, and I have a brother with four kids that I wasn’t getting to know. I wanted to be closer to them.”
Coming in cold, Drew immersed himself in the local creative scene by pitching and landing commissions for an installation of a series of pieces at the downtown resto-bar Okazu, and then an eight-foot mural for Black Swan Brewing featuring a black swan variation on The Threatened Swan painted in 1650 by Jan Asselijn. “My all-time favourite painting,” says Drew.
It was through those business connections (both Perth Community Futures clients) that Drew learned about PCF and decided to pitch his own studio setup, a open commercial studio concept and other community art events and ventures.
Art is Good for Business, and Vice Versa
Besides getting his own studio and oeuvre back up and running, Drew’s vision is for an open instruction studio where aspiring artists can work, learn by
doing, collaborate, get some coaching, work on their technique and build a professional portfolio. “There are lots of hobbyists and Sunday painters here (which is great – not knocking that) but an open studio for people who want to make their living as gallery artists has great potential in Stratford,” he says.
Drew also plans to launch collaborative open-house art fairs with local hospitality businesses similar to those held in Toronto at the hip and bohemian Gladstone and Drake Hotels, where hotel rooms are staged by artists with their own work. All for sale, of course. “It’s like a studio tour, but more immersive. I’m working with several local businesses on the first event now for the fall of 2018.
“This is a vibrant, arts-forward and socially connected community. There are already really great music events and artists here. And that can happen with visual art too. I see the makings of Stratford having its own art movement. And I want to be here to help when it happens.”