Exhibitions: Rich Simmons “London Calling” @Soho Contemporary Art

 (Words and pictures by Laurie Markiewicz)

“London Calling”
is the solo show of the young upcoming British “street artist” Rich Simmons at Soho Contemporary Art gallery on the Bowery. Simmons’ popularity has grown rapidly over the past 5-6 years due to his humorous use of pop icons/brands, 50’s pin-ups, and superheroes. Skeptical of another millennial hip to now viral radical art movements, pioneering street artists, and graffiti writers, I felt there was more to this artist than just that. Looking deeper beneath the surface, I read about and found a human being desperately searching for an outlet and safe haven. Simmons was mildly autistic and suffered from depression and social anxiety throughout his teenage years. Art served as a positive outlet for him to deal with these issues. But it didn’t stop there. Simmons realized he wasn’t alone. After sharing his story and art work via MySpace followers started to reach out to him thanking him for inspiring them not to give up or give in to all the negativity in their lives.In 2008, Simmons founded Art Is The Cure as a creative hub on MySpace for him and others to connect based on his story. In 2012, Simmons and friend Frazer Miller, “created an online platform and community for supporters of AITC to share their own stories, their own artwork and to find inspiration from others. The platform would give people the opportunity to inspire people in the same way A new kind of outlook on creative therapy being done by people in their own way, with whatever creative release they had, in their own time and space.”. The organization became quite a success leading Simmon’s to work with youth in schools and other organizations, through workshops, lectures, and events. Simmons’ art also became a success as well. Since 2010 he has had three successful shows in the UK and his buyer list has become quite extensive. “London Calling” is his debut show in the U.S..Rich Simmons’ story hit a personal chord with us being parents of special needs children. We never want our children to suffer or feel they have no options or feel unhappy within their own skin.596 not only had a chance to see his work last night, but also ask him a few questions about how he’s gotten to this point in his life and career.

596: In your press release for “London Calling” and in a couple write-ups it is mentioned you are diagnosed with mild autism and depression. I have a son (11 years old) diagnosed with PDD-NOS at age 2. Many therapies including art therapy have helped him throughout his journey. How old were you when you were diagnosed and at what point in your life was art therapy introduced? What people during that part of your life were your advocates? How did they support you? 

 RS: I was always a bit different from other kids growing up, always doing things my own way and putting excessive detail into all my work and being a bit of a loner. It wasnt until i was 17-18 and my family split up and i went more and more into my shell, focussing on my art instead of communicating verbally that people picked up on that side of me. Art has always been my release but in the darker moments it became my salvation and realised that i was using it as a form of self therapy. Thats when i researched it more and realised it wasnt very well known and there were probably a lot more people out there like me who didnt have art as a natural release and i made it my goal to make it more well known and understood by going to schools and giving talks and running workshops. My dad has been a huge support for me as we are very similar and he continues to be a constant source of support and inspiration.
 596: Do you remember the first art projects the art therapist/teacher did with you? Can you tell me more about them and how/if they are still practices or thoughts you have and use today?
 RS: I have never worked one on one with an art therapist, it was always something that came naturally to me and did on my own. I used art and creativity as a form of self therapy and that is what i try and advocate to others. You can use your creativity in so many ways to get that release of negative energy out of your system at any time of the day and find strength in knowing you were able to overcome it in your own way. Its about empowering people to find an inner strength they didnt realise they had through creative self therapies.
 596: How long have you been making street art? Are there any street/contemporary artists or particular people that you are influenced by? How have they been influential? 
 RS: I got into street art 6 or 7 years ago but didnt tag my name with it and didnt document it as i saw it as a learning curve to improve my art. every time i would paint i would learn something new and thought i could do better next time and wanted to wait until i improved my skill set. it wasnt until i did the big piece of will and kate as the sex pistols before the royal wedding at southbank skate park in london that i put my name to my street work.
Banksy was always a big influence as he was the guy who made street art more mainstream and got the medias attention which opened the door for younger artists to get attention too. For that reason I owe a huge debt to banksy for creating a platform for so many other artists to grow a career on. Im a big fan of david choe, conor harrington, faile, d*face, jack kirby, parlee, ron english and a lot more. its important to be inspired in lots of ways and learn techniques, compositional ideas and uses of colour. You always have to be open to learning something new and the day i stop learning something new is the day i die.
 596: Does music play a part in your art making? What are you listening to at this moment?
 RS: Im a huge music fan, being in a band is one thing i miss as its a different kind of creative release. I can’t wait to get back to my flat in london and be able to use my guitar again. Ive got a very eclectic taste in music and this summer I’ve been listening to a lot of ed sheeran’s new album, the amity affliction, memphis may fire, of mice & men, macklemore, lights, alexisonfire and I’m excited for the release of new found glory’s new album. music helps me in the art studio in different ways because sometimes if I’m getting tired and need an energy boost i will put something more upbeat and fast on but when I’m cutting stencils and need to relax to focus i will go for more of an acoustic playlist.
 596: Describe your ritual before making work.
 RS: I am pretty much a zombie for the first hour of my day and it takes me a bit of time to wake up properly in order to focus. I cut really detailed stencils and have to spray them with a lot of precision and that takes focus. The amount of times I’ve rushed into something and put the wrong cap on the spray paint or slipped with the knife and broken a stencil has taught me to relax a bit and enjoy my coffee and bagel for breakfast and read the news and have a shower and then I’m good to go for the day.
 596: What connection are you trying to establish between you and your viewer through your work?
 RS: I always like to leave my work open to different interpretations and try to evoke different emotional responses with the viewer. I think its important to understand that everyone will see something slightly differently and have a different emotional response and story to attach it to so i like to produce work that gives people the freedom to attach their own feelings to it. Obviously i will have my own interpretation of the emotions that went into it as the artist but its the people viewing my work that are the most import to me as i get to learn how they see things in my work which allow me to understand the viewers point of views better for next time. I like to evoke humour, sadness, romance, lust, fear and even open peoples minds to the ideas and emotions behind depression and autism and inspire people at the same time.
 596: I feel so much compassion in your story and your mission in wanting to help others with “Art  Is The Cure”.  Other than popular icons, superheroes, and street art has any one you have inspired/ helped either directly or indirectly been an inspiration for you when creating? If so, please share a story. 
 RS: I’ve been doing Art Is The Cure for over 6 years and I’ve had people from all over the world connect with me and tell me stories about how art has helped them overcome different struggles. Everyone who has connected with me has inspired me to keep wanting to push myself to be the best artist i can be, promote art therapy in the best way i can and if someones story inspires me, i will channel that into an idea and paint that too.
 596: You are having an American debut show in probably one of the best street art neighborhoods of Manhattan, the Lower East Side and Soho, in your stay here are there any particular street artists you have had your eye on? What about them stands out? 
 RS: Its an incredible honour to be exhibiting in such an iconic part of New York. This is the kind of opportunity artists dream about and its come true for me and I’ve worked my ass off to produce work strong enough to justify my position of having a solo show here. Ive been so busy since i got here in the studio that I’ve barely had any time to myself to explore the city or its artists but now that its all painted and hung in the gallery, I’m excited to get out and meet people and explore the city to get inspired for the next body of work i want to produce.
 596: What other parts of the city and the boros have you been able to explore during your time here? 
 RS: Ive been here for 2 months and from the day i arrived i have been in my studio painting everything. its been the biggest show I’ve ever attempted and its been a huge effort to produce all the work. the plan all along was to create everything before the show, then enjoy the exhibition and explore new york for the last month before i go home. I have a huge list of places i want to explore and things i want to see and now I’m able to enjoy the show and not have any more art to make, i can get out and see this incredible city with a clear head and an open diary.
 596: In the next five years where would you like to see yourself and “Art Is The Cure”?”
 RS: I would love to make art is the cure more mainstream and find new ways to promote it and give young creatives a platform to share their stories, art and ideas through. I have been working on developing a social networking community for creative people to network on and grow the art is the cure message through and I’m hoping to release that next year which is a big project I’m excited to put more of my energy into. Id love to be able to travel and hopefully in 5 years time i will be able to say I’ve had more exhibitions, traveled the world to see and experience new places and continue to feel inspired and motivated to produce new and exciting artwork.
 Thank you Rich!

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