I build spaces for your imagination to inhabit.
These are poised on the edge of the preposterous, the perverse—viscous spaces
in which antique silver and fading flowers are found alongside floating raw eggs and
sliced cactus, in which my foot or chicken’s feet, dolls and trinkets and plastic toys
might be found. There are atmospheric spaces which convey a sense of serenity
alternating with a disturbing feeling that something is about to come loose.
There is something amusing and embarrassing about the work, that makes it at
once seductive and repulsive. I don’t know exactly what. It is because someone has
been at play, an adult, playing like a child? It is because the work brings us somehow
close to the way we feel when we eat food with our hands or make love?
The work alludes to what we know, you and I, obliquely, out on the periphery of
our conscious awareness…
- Sylvia Salazar Simpson
1978 L.A.Women / Narrations - Mandeville Art Gallery at the University of California, SanDiego
From the Press Release:
“The exhibition will explore the narrative content in collage, painting, sculpture,
drawing and the elucidation of real-life experiences which artists currently express in
adoption of a persona through ‘performance.’ The artist are Jerri Allyn and
Performance Group, Karen Carson, Carole Caroompas, Victoria Nodiff, Sylvia Salazar
Simpson, Kathy Kauffman and Rira Yokoi.
During the opening night reception, Simpson will present her performance of A Food
Piece, the premiere presentation of this work. Several Tutti Frutti and Saran Rap
mixed media constructions by the artist will be on display during the run of the show.
Simpson says she “grew up in a country where food and lack of food was very much in
evidence.” In Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she was born, “there were feasts of food for
the living and feasts of food for the dead. And, there were beggars who begged for
food and there were always the smells of food — of food cooking, of food ripening, of
L.A. Women/Narrations — ARTWEEK, October 21, 1978, Review by Ida K. Rigby
“The Mandeville Art Gallery’s L.A. Women Narrations opened October 6 with a peanut -
butter performance (occurrence) , A Food Piece by Sylvia Salazar Simpson. Two hospital
or morgue attendants humorlessly wheeled in a freshly peanut-butter (smooth) —
frosted couple posed after the Cerveteri sarcophagus lid. Simpson embedded fig slices
and ruby red pomegranate seeds in the goo, tucked glistening dead fish between the
couple and their tomb-pedestal and crowned them with salami cap and pink cotton
Roman decadence in Etruscan guise? An allegory of conspicuous consumption?
Invitation to Le Grand Bouffe? No, marriage. Simpson’s piece symbolized “conjugal
symbiosis… they are stuck together.” […]
Unfortunately, no one had time to digest the spectacle; it all happened too fast.
Simpson wanted a streaker like experience but also laughter. The nervous atmosphere,
cramped spectators and tense performers prevented interaction with the piece. It was a
frustrating experience which had potential for humor, delectation and a range of
sensuous and ethical responses. It was at once repulsive and tantalizing.”
1980 UCSB “Invented Imagery” LOS ANGELES TIMES Review by William Wilson,
March 2 1980 (excerpt)
“UCSB’S “Invented Imagery” comes off more agreeably because it does not push a
theoretical posture that doesn’t hold water. This exhibition seems to simply say that
the genre is predominantly about ideas. Here they range from the lush, witty photos of
Sylvia Salazar Simpson to the abstract arrangements of Mark McFadden. She shoots
wonderful hairdo’s made of fruits, vegetables and even an octopus. She makes shoes
out of similar stuff. It’s as surreal and sensual as updated Archimboldo. McFadden
makes tacky stylish arrangements of furniture and walls painted in matching patterns.”
Installation evokes southwest by Michael Kampen for NEW PRESS, May 7, 1983 (excerpt)
“Salazar Simpson combined her own fascination with environmental art and her deep
emotional ties with Hispanic America to create LAMEXOD (Los Angeles to Mexico), an
environmental piece that reflects on the cultural traditions that have always unified the
southwestern United States and Mexico.
A dozen cactus and wire columns create a new architectural order, one never dreamed
of by our Greco-Roman fore-bearers carving fancy marble columns for their ancient
temples. The new LAMEXOD order is made of fence wire cylinders pierced by
fragmented arms of cacti, birds of paradise, overripe strawberries, wildflowers lilies,
covered with faded rose petals and shiny sequins, and capped by be-speckled stuffed
animals. These less heroic columns tell a story of Mexico’s beauty and poverty, of
Mexico’s never ending struggle for cultural and economic survival.
Salazar Simpson’s environment is, at once, the cut stone architecture of the great
Mexican shrines, the canopied wilderness of the remote tropical jungles and the clutter
of the modern, urban slums.
Moving through Salazar Simpson’s LAMEXOD microcosm one smells the warm fish, soft
strawberries, syrup, flowers, sliced oranges and asphalt — and rediscovers the rich
aromas of Mexico’s provincial markets. The artist teacher and friend, Kaprow, wanted
artists to explore happenings and environmental art so they might create a dialogue
with the materials of their environment and to bring their creative energies into more
fertile interactions with the world around them. Simpson has done this, and continues
to exercise and extend this kind of interaction and dialogue every day as she attends
and grooms her shrine-like environment, replacing perishable objects and smoothing
the floor, tending it with the loving care that she must give to a sanctuary dedicated to
an ancient and fragile cultural tradition.”
1991 HOPSCOTCH BORDERLINE — SYLVIA SALAZAR SIMPSON Art Walk ’91 T-Shirt Artist
The image was selected by a panel of judges including Howard Fox of the Los Angeles
County Museum of Art, Christopher Night, L.A.Times art critic, Peter Sellars, Director of
the L.A. Art Festival and Jan Turner, owner of the Jan Turner Gallery.
This is Joan Hugo’s report (excerpt) after a conversation with the artist:
“Sylvia Salazar Simpson’s work is idiosyncratic — even quirky — because it
resists expectations. It does not spring from traditional or modernist concerns for
aesthetics or a canon of correct evolution, but derives instead from roots in conceptual
and performance work of the 1970s and the legacy of artists like Allan Kaprow with
whom she studied.
That legacy includes an emphasis on process and views the issue of
performance, long a consideration of traditional art, as without consequence. This
attitude allows impermanence and the immediacy of experience to play a vital role in
the construction of an art work.
In Simpson’s work, decay and entropy — that is, the decline of organic materials
and the ultimate collapse of systems — are crucial components.
In her installations she establishes unexpected relationships between elements
and sets into motion events with a limited life and predictable terminus. The flowers
wilt, the vegetables rot, the structure collapses under its own weight — equivalent for
In her Tortilla Curtain installation, for example, the rolled tortillas, dollar bills,
asphalt (an oil by-product), jelly beans (Ronald Reagan’s favorite candy) and inedible
food suggest the complexities of the economic and political relationship between the
United States and its neighbors to the south.
Through the connections suggested by the juxtaposition of these seemingly
unrelated elements, she queries the ways in which cultural perceptions are established
through cliche and false assumptions and how the attempt to define a cultural identity
requires straddling both visible and invisible borders.
These are very real and very personal considerations for Salazar Simpson, who
was born in New Mexico, raised in Mexico, and has been for a long time resident of
1992 Art Is Where You Throw It L.A. TIMES October 22, 1992 AL MARTINEZ’ interview with
Sylvia Salazar Simpson (excerpt)
Art, as everyone knows, is pretty much whatever you want it to be.
Think about it. Rocks, maybe a hundred of them, in a circle. Period. In the
marine Corps, we placed white rocks along pathways and in circles around latrines, but
we didn’t call it art. We called it keeping busy.
“If you people want to stay alive in a war,” a gunnery sergeant yelled at us,
“you’ll keep busy.”
I never understood the man’s logic, but I kept busy and stayed alive so he must
have been right.
Which brings me, somewhat circuitously, to the Fish Head Lady of Malibu.
Her name is Sylvia Salazar Simpson. I call her her the Fish Head Lady because
one of her better known pieces of art involved salmon heads affixed to a chair frame
that hung from the ceiling.
I met Sylvia through a friend who had seen an exhibit in El Centro. She’d
dangled chicken feet from ropes laced with glitter and called it Tortilla Curtain.”
Both exhibits were meant to explain that beauty can be found in ordinary
objects. I’ll remember that the next time I see a chicken.
This is one artist who doesn’t live in a garret and isn’t sallow-skinned and
starving. She’s a handsome woman of 52 with grand gestures and a way of sweeping
from room to room like a desert breeze.
She lives in a nice house high on a hill. In the distance, one can see the ocean.
Inside, one can see the glassy blue eyes of a doll poked into a rotten grapefruit. It’s
the way Sylvia sees George Bush seeing the world.
In the late 1960s, as a student at the California Institute of Art, she was told to
make art out of anything she wanted.
“After seven years of marriage I was familiar with food,” she said. “So it became
The most obvious effort was an exhibit in san Diego. She slathered a man and a
woman with peanut butter embedded with fig slices and pomegranate seeds and called
it “marriage.” Dead fish separated them.
She likes to create an environment where people can smell her art. “Smell,” she
says, “fixes it in memory.”
One of those who smelled her art was her husband, a farm broker. Sylvia used
to store her fish heads in the refrigerator. He objected.
“It makes the ice cubes smell like fish,” he said, “and you can’t make a martini
with ice cubes that taste like fish.” God keep that man.
She calls her art viscous due to her eggs experience. She came home one day
and her two daughters were smashing eggs on the ground looking for baby chicks.
“I like the viscous quality,” she says with remarkable calm. “Raw eggs evoke a
different perceptual situation. When things get too stylized, I always go back to eggs.”
Then she added unnecessarily, “Not everyone likes my art. Some find it
disgusting.” But she keeps busy and won’t be killed in a war.
THERE IS A URUGUAYAN NOVELLA
ABOUT A LADY
WHO BOUGHT HERSELF AN ELABORATE SUMMER PLACE,
WITH MANY FOUNTAINS SET IN
DELIGHTFUL LABYRINTHIAN GARDENS.
SHE THEN PROCEEDED TO HAVE
THE ENTIRE PLACE FLOODED;
SO THAT SHE COULD NAVIGATE
ALL AROUND THE PROPERTY,
RECLINING IN HER GONDOLA.
AT THIS VERY MOMENT SHE IS PLACIDLY FLOATING
SOMEWHERE IN THOSE SHADED GARDENS.
MAYBE MY WORK IS ALSO AN ATTEMPT
TO CREATE IMPLAUSIBLE PLACES
EXCEPTING THAT THE RESULTS ARE VISUAL
RATHER THAN VERBAL.
SYLVIA SALAZAR SIMPSON
1997 Knowing and naming: The search for tangible meaning, by Susan Greer,
ARTWEEK, June 1997 (excerpt)
Language belongs in the realm of the body. Art maybe a visual representation but
smell, touch, movement, and sound have all become part of the nonverbal
communication of artworks precisely because art is a language. Some artists have been
using language, or some of its structures, to re-associate sensory experience with
speech, in order to reconstruct the way meaning, or knowing, is created before words
come into play.
Sylvia Simpson’s books completely omit language. The stiff, blank pages are
simply impregnated with crushed, aromatic spices. It is the fingering of the pages, the
scribbling crawl of tiny bugs and the lacy gnawing of mice that write the pages of her
books. The scent of cumin and pepper, oregano or chili coming off on the fingertips is
the content. This is knowing not yet solidified in words.
2011 ROSANNA ALBERTINI, Stories of Natural Decay, in WHITE OWLS - Artists I found in Los
Angeles 1994-2011, ORESTE &Co. Publishers, Los Angeles, 2011 (Hand-made book)
About Sylvia Salazar Simpson
Time of metaphors, private transportation for unwritten stories invisible sometimes, at
other times pulled away as if they were not ours. Sylvia Salazar Simpson’s books are
seductive and repulsive bodies by themselves — there are no verbal stories — natural
stories of decay. Pages were soaked with water to make a bed for paprika, or sugar, or
herbs. Although these books, it’s almost certain, have to do with human nature, much
more they share the destiny of speechless things like “flat land and weather and
money” (Gertrude Stein).
There were railroads on the land, stretched out trees and metal. Some of those
trunks are the columns soaked with tar that carry a book, placed on their sliced faces.
No remembering on the pages either, no words, not even images. And yet each book
is the story: the colored dust of burned-out feelings still spreading their smell, and
soon showing their inevitable alteration. “Can you fold the page please? That’s the
ritual.” “Why disgusting?” Repulsion disappears when the most terrible things are
Years ago the artist wrote, “There is something amusing and embarrassing
about the work.” A jelly bean-bacon-pearl page should be sucked, read by the lips, the
same voracious tongue of a newborn exploring the world’s surface before names
appear, as clear as thinking can be. And the distance between the new mouth and
plenty of unknown objects around is filled with saliva. Articulated sounds will be spat
out later by the same mouth. Is that all? The sacred word? Yes, once upon a time this
artist sewed to a table the uncooked white of an egg.
Art needs only an alien space to physically exist, breaking the anesthesia. The
Sugar and Spit Book? What does meaning mean if the book is a tongue as rough as a
cat’s tongue, a black sandpaper growing Tylenol at the heart of a chewed bubble gum?
Test tubes pull out of the page like babies. “Can you fold the page please?” You can
touch what your brain has created. Who knows if it is human or not it must be but it
doesn’t perfectly fit. The medical aura is disturbed by the artist reducing to zero an
intellectual distance, and messing up what seems to be such a nice idea, and actually
could be. Art is not an experiment. Sylvia Salazar Simpson’s books are flowers lying on
aged stems torn from the ground of history. They can’t hurt.