Aloha ʻAina | Michael Simpson
By Devlyn Pearce
Some art is stale and lifeless, created for the mass market to simply fill space. While that is functional, it seems that the best art is made as a reflection of the artist who creates it. A writer expresses their thoughts and ideas through words, sometimes pulling us into their worlds. A musician implants their emotions into their music, taking us along for the ride.
As a true polymath, artist Michael Simpson takes his widely diverse interests and experiences and coalesces them to create unique artwork in unique ways.
Not surprisingly, Simpson's passion for all things creative started at a young age, as did his engineering tendencies. “I had crayons, coloring books, and many of those types of things,” Simpson remembers, “but my mom also gave me paints, scissors, and a whole lot of blank paper. My mother likes to tell this story that at one point, I think I was around the age of four, I had meticulously crafted a typewriter from the pages of a lined writing pad using scissors and tape. The paper roller would spin and the keys would press. I had crafted out each key and part of this entire typewriter. Then, when it wouldn't actually type as I used it, when it wouldn't actually work, I tossed the whole thing in the trash. My mother tried to save it, but I wouldn't have it. I tore it apart and started another project.” Simpson's attention to detail would play a key role in his art later in his life.
Simpson's love of the land also developed early on. He spent many of his childhood days investigating bugs, trees, flowers, animals, and the rest of the natural world. He often went on hikes into the wilderness, exploring forests, mountains, caves, and rivers. Even the simple flow of water fascinated him.
“I remember being mesmerized by water.” Simpson says with a smile that bares hints of nostalgia, “Water is so beautiful, I love the way it flows around and over things, the way light glistens and reflects on its surface. It doesn't matter if it's rain, the ocean, a river, a waterfall, or a pond. Even the sound of water opens a spring of joy in my soul. I remember there was a water box near one of the houses I lived in as a young child which always had a whirlpool spinning in it. I would lay on the iron grate which laid over the box and I would drop leaves, sticks and the like into the water to watch it flow and eventually get sucked down into the abyss. It was beautiful, fascinating, and also terrifying.”
Simpson was born in a small town in Idaho in the United States. His family moved two or three times every year until he was a teenager. He attributes some of his ability to adapt to change to this constant flux in his early years. “That kind of constant change can give a person a lot of perspective and flexibility if they'll let it. I learned that no matter what changes were going on, I could always find peace in sketching, exploring, and creating. I learned how to sketch pretty decently in a moving car, I remember filling sketch books while riding in the back seat.”
Art wasn't the only passion in Simpson's life however. He was equally interested in technology, science, and music. He holds a firm belief that many artists are also scientists. “I think many of the best artists are also amateur scientists, sometimes not even that amateur. The close study of life, everything which surrounds us, and how it all works, can make a persons art just that much better. I actually think that most people start out as artists, as kids we all have that sense of wonder, but when that sense of wonder leaves, usually the art goes with it.”
Simpson's love of technology was no simple curiosity either. At the age of four he put together and set up his Grandparents computer system when he decided that his grandma wasn't sure how to. His grandma recounts, “Michael came over and said to me, 'I think you should let me do it grandma, I don't think you know how,' and he was right!” He would continue in his life embracing the most recent technology and gadgets. Always curious and always tinkering.
Early on, Simpson quickly decided that he wanted to have a career in art. With a love for all things artistic, scientific, and technological he began creating different kinds of art in new and uncommon ways. “Art can be created and expressed in so many formats and with many kinds of tools. You don't have to stick with a brush, pencil, pen, or chisel.
I really wanted to find a way to combine my passions.” His parents, however, worried that a career in art wouldn't be able to bring enough income to support him and a future family, and encouraged him to pursue a career in something more traditional.
“That idea is all rubbish of course,” Simpson says shaking his head, “there is this huge beast of an idea out there of this 'starving artist' stereotype. People say, 'you can't make a living as an artist' or 'art is just a hobby' or some other such nonsense. That should come as a surprise to the hundreds of thousands of professional artists out there living on an artist income. Just like in any other industry, there are challenges. Some of those are unique to the art industry, most are not.” At the time however, Simpson believed his parents, and he decided to pursue a career in computer science.
Over the next few years, Simpson would move to and live in Australia before moving back to Idaho. After three years in college and a change in major from computer science to psychology with a music minor, he suffered a setback in the form of a serious and debilitating back injury.
“The timing of that injury was devastating to me.” Simpson recounts, “I ended up losing a lot of what I had worked for. It took over four years, various treatments including surgery, and a miracle for me to finally be able to recover and heal.”
While injured, Simpson found his soul-mate, was married in Boise, Idaho, and was able to get work in the financial industry working as an emerging markets trader for a financial company. “My story, it seems, is a series of totally random events,” Simpson laughs. “Back in high school, I really wanted to be a CG artist, you know, doing all of that 3D computer animation stuff. This was back in '94, before the first Toy Story had come out, and that's what I wanted to do. Instead of pursuing that, however, I went to college to be a computer programmer. Then, three years later, I admit to myself that I can't stand programming, and, instead of switching to purse a career in art, I switch to pursuing a doctors of psychology degree, but then that doesn't work out because a semester short of graduation I injure my back and my daily life becomes intense pain. So, with my injury, I have to find work that I can do at home and I end up trading on the stock market. It was a very uncertain time in my life but I learned a lot.”
The financial job would prove to be a turning point for Simpson however as being able to work from home allowed him begin pursuing his artwork again. He comments, “I never really stopped making art, I just didn't pursue it as a source of income.” With his back on the mend, and finding the world of finance as he put it, “soul crushing,” he found himself presented with an opportunity to
start anew once again. “I could have chosen to go back and finish my psychology program, but with the support of my wife, and a chance to really go after what I was passionate about, I felt I had to take that chance.”
Simpson's first entry into the professional art field was in graphic design, creating identities for businesses, designing signs, and making ad's. “I still do a bit of that from time to time. Small things that people ask me for usually, like last year I did an event poster for the charity, Habitat for Humanity. I have a deep love for typography, design, and balance, that keeps me interested.”
Working as a graphic artist opened up new opportunities and eventually Simpson's career took a new path down the road of concept artwork. “I enjoyed making concept art a lot. It was a lot more expressive and I got to paint things for movies and games, two things I liked at the time.” He quickly gravitated toward specializing in environmental concept painting, finding that expressing his love for the land through art filled his soul more than anything else he had done.
Simpson elaborates, “Aloha ‘Āina, it means, 'love of the land.' It sometimes has some politics behind it these days but I tend to not focus on politics in general. I use it in its true sense, a deep love, respect, understanding, and connection with the land we live on. I live my life with Aloha ‘Āina and I do my best to bring it out in my artwork.”
For Simpson, it wasn't much of a leap from doing environmental concepts to doing fine art paintings of Polynesian and tropical influence. Along with that change came a permanent relocation to Hawaii. “I've had a love for Hawaii since the first time I went there as a young man. The culture, the people, the beautiful and varied plants and animals, the ocean, but most of all I love the spirit of the place. It's a spirit of love and peace, a spirit which puts the truly important things first and doesn't worry about the rest. Things tend to be more laid back here, and many people still appreciate the real joys in this life, rather than obsessing over the artificial ones mankind has made for itself.”
Simpson's paintings are varied and unique, often showcasing vivid colors. Many of them are grounded in actual places or history but have a touch of fantasy added to them; his background in concept art coming through. His technique is just as varied and unique, using a blend of traditional and modern methodologies and tools.
“Considering my history, I don't think that it's surprising that I use everything at my disposal to create my art. Technology and improvements in materials have opened up a whole new host of artistic opportunities which weren't possible even a decade ago. While I can definitely appreciate those who stick exclusively to the types of materials and techniques used by the “old masters,” that definitely isn't for me, and if I tried to make my art while being limited in that way it wouldn't reflect who I am as an artist or what I want to create.”
When he's not working on his artwork, Simpson spends his time with his family and also enjoys martial arts and playing the piano, guitar, and ukulele.
His paintings can be found in buildings and galleries around the islands of Hawaii as well as in his online gallery.