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Artists Among Us: Danny Simmons

Originally Posted: July 25, 2011


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"The Ju Ju Man's One Man Band," 22 x 30, oil and charcoal on paper, 2011. (markblackshear.com)

Artist Daniel "Danny" Simmons. (markblackshear.com)

East Hampton - Continuing with our Artists Among Us profiles, our next artist is Daniel "Danny" Simmons who spends his time between his home/gallery in Brooklyn, New York and his brother's home in East Hampton.

Well known here in the Hamptons, this artist, poet and philanthropist is the oldest of the trio of successful Simmons brothers, (mogul/hip-hop impressario Russell Simmons and musician/rapper Joseph ("Rev. Run" of Run DMC) Simmons. Danny is the co-founder and Chairman of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, which provides disadvantaged urban youth with arts access and education opportunities.

He is also the co-executive producer (with his brother Russell) of the successful, long running HBO series "Def Poetry Jam" - an idea borne from a group of Simmons's friends who would gather and perform open mic's at art galleries in the early 1990s. An author as well, Danny has published "Three Days As the Crow Flies," a fictional account of the 1980s New York art scene, and "I Dreamed My People Were Calling But I Couldn't Find My Way Home," a book of artwork and poetry, as well as "'85," a graphic novel written with Floyd Hughes, which explores the art scene in 1985.

"Cosmic Water Spirit," 20 x 36, oil on Congo bark cloth, 2011. (markblackshear.com)

Additionally, Danny founded the Rush Arts Gallery and converted part of his loft in Brooklyn into the Corridor Gallery (literally a corridor in his home). These galleries were started to provide exhibition opportunities to early and mid-career artists who do not have commercial representation through galleries or private dealers.

A true "Renaissance Man" Danny commends his parents, Daniel, Sr. (a truant officer and black history professor who also wrote poetry), and Evelyn (a teacher who painted as a hobby) with instilling a desire to pursue his interests and talents to their fullest possibilities. He earned a degree in social work from New York University and a master's in public finance from Long Island University, and began painting as a means to release his frustration working in the public sector. He is on the boards of the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Academy of Music (and a member of the New York State Council on the Arts as well).

An avid collector of African art and comic books, he defines his work as abstract expressionism, and has shown locally here in the Hamptons, as well as nationally. His works are included in the collections of Chase Manhattan Bank, the United Nations, and the Schomburg Center for Black Culture.

Danny is as well known for his graciousness and generosity, as well as his tremendous African art and pop culture collections, as he is for his own work, and agreed to discuss his connection to the Hamptons and what the area means to him.

"Whispers From The Medicine Man's Pouch," 24 x 36, oil on canvas, 2011. (markblackshear.com)


Defining his 'artist statement' Danny has been quoted as stating "All my paintings for the last 10 years are about trying to capture [human beings'] relationship to spirit. It doesn't necessarily mean man and God - it means the connection you have with people."When did you start making art and what medium(s) do you consider to be your roots in art?

Danny Simmons: I started my art making with my mother as a child. She was a passionate amateur artist and art lover who took the time to sit with me often and teach me the rudiments of painting. My major materials are raw pigment, oils and charcoals.

What is it about the Hamptons that brought you here and enticed you to stay, work, and pursue your art here as opposed to some place else?

DS: I come to the East End to get away from the bustle of Brooklyn and the NYC art scene. I love the city but the Hamptons vibe is soul quieting. I am able to reach a level of serenity here that's much more profound than in the city. I return from here refreshed and ready to enter my painting studio with renewed vitality.

How do you support yourself as an artist?

DS: I'm able to support my life style through a combination of resources. Sales of my work, rent from the other apartments in the building I own and payments from large scale art projects that I work on.

"A Few Notes From An Old Song," 20 x 30, oil on Congo bark cloth, 2011. (markblackshear.com)


Why live and/or work in the Hamptons as opposed to elsewhere?

DS: I'm in love with my brother's home in East Hampton to which I'm granted unlimited access, and my relatives' place in Noyac which is surrounded by a large expanse of undeveloped land. The feel of nature and the quiet in both places and the history of art making out here on the East End is a constant inspiration to me.

What local environmental or historical aspects of the Hamptons do you relate to that may be reflected in your medium?

DS: My collection of African objects and my contemporary art collection is a constant source of inspiration and spiritual focus. Also comic books - which I read on a constant basis. I'm in the comic book store weekly buying new books.

What artists do you feel have influenced you and your work?

DS: My greatest influences are from Wifredo Kam, Jackson Pollock, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cy Twombly and Norman Lewis - these painters have taught me how to access spiritual energy and find my inner voice.

"The Last Fire Spitter," 20 x 32, oil on Congo bark cloth, 2011. (markblackshear.com)

What advice would you give an emerging artist?

DS: Immerse yourself in the art scene and get to know other creators. Talk about your work and go to as many openings as possible. I hate to say it but it's true - you gotta be in it to win it. Challenge yourself and explore all mediums and be open to critique. Finally, work on your art constantly and build up a considerable body of work.

What gives you an edge (if any)?

DS: Working at it gives me an edge. The more I put in the better and deeper the painting becomes. Also, being surrounded by my collection of art from Africa - the spirit that resonates off of some of those objects electrifes the atmosphere, and it is hard not to get an edge from contact with these objects.

What are you working on now, and are you involved in any upcoming shows or exhibitions?

DS: I have three solo shows to look forward to in Fall of 2011. I'm working hard to have great art for them, and I'm excited by what I'm coming up with for these shows. These current works are from a series titled 'Searching For The Ju Ju - a show I'm having at Mason Murer Gallery in September. They reference my quest to find spirit and channel it into my work. Just like indigenous peoples all over the globe created objects of power which we now call art - I believe that the creative process is a source for finding that power and like sculpture from tribal peoples we modern artisans can create objects and art filled with spirit and power.


For more information go to www.dannysimmons.net.


"Dancin' Thru Da Spirits," 26 x 26, oil on Congo bark cloth, 2011. (markblackshear.com)




Eileen Casey spent many years working in the television and music industries in New York City on the "ABC In Concert" weekly series, as well as several prime time network and cable television specials. An award-winning journalist, editor, and artist, and former Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com, she enjoys staying warm in Charleston and cool in the Hamptons.




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Guest (Bridgette) from Chicago says::
This guy is a genius!!! it's the action packing Leo Steinberg wrote about in the 1950s and 60s brought into the 21st century!
Sep 8, 2011 9:14 am

 

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