Desert Mystic: The Paintings of John Simpkins

Desert Mystic: The Paintings of John Simpkins

October 27, 2018 through February 17, 2019

John Simpkins personifies the tradition of the artist as a mystic and hermit. For the past seven years, he’s lived and painted in the schoolhouse in Andrews, a ghost town nestled between Steens Mountain and the Alvord Desert in Oregon’s Harney County. His days are filled with the quiet contemplation and solitary discipline of his studio practice.

In Desert Mystic, he’s created paintings inspired by the surrounding arid landscape and its wildlife. Simpkins weaves them into dense, layered allegories. His detailed and colorful paintings are shaped by influences as diverse as American Primitivism, Byzantine icon painting and Buddhist art.

He describes the animals of the region as being constant companions and transforms his frequent chance encounters with coyotes, badgers, owls and other creatures into paintings that depict them as guides and teachers, a concept he borrows from the Buddhist tradition. Consequently, the mule deer buck that startles John by peering through his studio window one morning is immortalized as a messenger wrapped in saffron robes.

Simpkins displays a tenacious dedication to his unique vision and perspective. The impressive trove of accumulated paintings from the last seven years that fill his studio are a testament to his robust work ethic. His vibrant vision has found fertile soil and flourished in its austere environment. John Simpkins has transformed the arid desolation of the Oregon desert into a creative oasis.

By Curator of Arts and Community Engagement Andries Fourie

With support from

1859 Oregon's Magazine