A closer look

Painter and illustrator Kirsten Sims is a master of gentle parody, using idiosyncratic characters, gestural brushstrokes, enticing colour combinations and irresistible humour to draw in the viewer to consider subjects that hide – however subtly – beneath the surface.

Portraying narrative scenes both fanciful and familiar, her work explores the literal and psychosocial dimensions of place, whether crowded sartorial scene or serene landscape, recognisable vista or exotic escape. It’s a theme informed by a very personal approach; each artwork indicative of her current interior landscape, of her place within a place.
With her canny observations and impulsive aesthetic style, Sims strives to create connection with viewers by validating the shared human experience in all its bizarre theatrics, varied colour and seemingly trivial moments. Humour and playfulness offer comic relief in an otherwise weighty world, but also serve to disarm viewers, quietly confronting them with alternative, additional narratives.

Texts and subtexts “both real and imagined” jostle for space, sometimes amicably, sometimes more panicked, and accessible visual language is subtly complicated by formal and abstract considerations in her painting process. Loose, spontaneous brushstrokes and intuitive, surprising colour choice are characters in their own right; considered composition, exaggeration, unusual scale and flattened perspective tell their own stories.

Colour in particular plays a central role – from the very start of Sims’s creative process. Led by a feeling or mood or subconscious observation, before even settling on any figurative topics or overt narrative, she intuitively selects and combines colours, creating a palette that then largely dictates the mood and emotive aspects of the artwork that will unfold. Inspired by the ability of light to change a subject incrementally or dramatically, Sims uses her chosen colour palette as a kind of grand narrative that overshadows the scenes, characters and landscapes that emerge.

The result is work that; however glamorous, sublime, exotic or delightful; is beautifully stained with a sense of disquiet, a kind of detachment or lostness that is at times liberating, at times lonely. In her body of work, leisurely summer scenes hang alongside more subdued, secluded nightscapes. Behind glamorous partygoers loom large windows framing an escape to nature – unpeopled, untamed. Instagram-worthy snapshots of pool parties obscure a suggestion of boredom and not-quite-belonging, and unmask the human obsession with being seen rather than being really seen.

With references sourced from old magazines, personal photographs and everything in between, Sims’s paintings feel like somebody else’s holiday snapshots; and simultaneously like autobiographical elements dressed up in festivity and fiction. They capture a kind of nostalgia for the present, elusive moment, and the inability to fully occupy it. What hovers in the atmosphere of every painting; whether stylish lounge, crowded beach scene or secluded mountainside; is an exploration of escapism – its empty promises and its delights.

Kirsten Sims (b. 1987) is a visual artist living with her young son and her dog name Toast in Cape Town, South Africa. Kirsten completed a BA in Applied Design at the Stellenbosch Academy (2011) and completed her Honours degree in Illustration at Stellenbosch University (2014). Her path has led to editorial and commercial illustration projects for the likes of The New Yorker, Airbnb, AD Magazine and Apartamento Magazine; solo exhibitions in Cape Town and Toronto; and inclusions in numerous art fairs and group exhibitions. The narrative quality of Kirsten’s work has also lent itself naturally to children’s storybook illustration. Orfeu Negro published her first picture book, Balthazar The Great, in 2015.


2023, PASSAGE, Alison Milne Gallery / 2023,  Warm Regards, 131 Gallery / 2022, Good Thanks And You, 131 A Gallery, Cape Town / 2021, Lost in the Light, Salon 91, Cape Town / 2020, Goodnight Moon, Salon 91, Cape Town / 2019, As You Were, Salon 91, Cape Town / 2018, By The Way, Salon 91 Cape Town / 2018, Closed for the Season, Alison Milne Gallery, Toronto, Canada / 2017, Saturn Return, Salon 91, Cape Town / 2016, You Are Here, Salon 91, Cape Town / 2016, Leap Year, Salon 91 ,Cape Town / 2015, The Middle of Nowhere, Salon 91, Cape Town / 2015, The Middle of Nowhere, Canadian Edition, Salon 91, Alison Milne Gallery, Toronto, Canada


Apartamento Magazine, Spain / AD Magazine, France / Airbnb / The New Yorker, USA / ABC Carpet and Home USA / Ann Taylor USA / Anthropologie USA / BURG Hotel, Austria / J Crew, USA / Mail & Guardian, South Africa / Fashion and Arts Magazine, El Mundo Gira, Spain /  L’Officiel Magazine, France / Tbrand Studio, New York / Alison Milne Gallery, Canada / Good Clothing, Cape Town / Orfeu Negro, Portugal / Honest Chocolate, Cape Town / Emirates Woman Magazine, UAE / 50ty/50ty, Cape Town / SALK Tennis Club, Sweden / The New York Times, USA

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