On the cover: Reflections by Rich Simmons
How did Reflections come together?
I was inspired by my friend coming out and talking to me about the homophobia he faced, but also how people expected him to behave differently when he was out. I wanted to create something about the notion that who you love impacts who you are or what you do, so I created a scene in which these two superheroes are kissing to prompt a conversation about heroism, equality and people’s reaction to love. A piece of art becomes a piece of art when somebody reacts to it emotionally. I certainly got some reactions to this.
It’s part of a larger series I believe…
Yes, I wanted the story to play out over a number of frames, like a comic book. The first piece, Between the Capes, was just them kissing and then came Reflections, when you see the reaction of somebody confronted with seeing these people in a totally different way. There are other pieces looking at the press reaction and I’m working on one showing the photo being developed about that time a private moment becomes public.
How did you first start out as an artist?
I’ve always created art, but I wasn’t sure how, or if, it would be a career. But I created a piece before the 2011 royal wedding featuring Will as Sid Vicious from the Sex Pistols and Kate as Nancy [Spungen]. It was on the South Bank in London and it seemed to catch people’s attention – the next day it was in the papers. As a result of that I got on the walls of a gallery next to people I idolised and I started selling my work, but the gallery I was with was trying to turn me into a baby Banksy, encouraging me to just do political pieces using stencils, which wasn’t what I wanted to do. So I had to leave them and, to a certain extent, start again.
You credit art with saving your life as a teenager – how so?
When I was in my late teens I struggled with my mental health – I am autistic and suffered with depression – and art always helped me process the world, even before I was diagnosed. It was my way of getting the demons out of my system and trapping them in canvas. Afterwards I’d feel like I’d got a weight off my shoulders. From speaking with therapists I realised what I was doing was a form of art therapy.
Which led to you setting up an organisation, Art Is The Cure…
I wanted to make art therapy more accessible and encourage people who were struggling to look at using it, so I started Art Is The Cure when I was 22. The idea is to start the conversation around art as a means of helping people process things by setting up workshops in schools, at community centres and online. Art doesn’t need to be painting or drawing; cookery can be an art form, as can making music or skateboarding – anything creative can help.
What are the plans for Art Is The Cure?
We have a documentary out, which I’m excited about, and we are creating an online platform to help people engage in art from anywhere in the world. I’m also trying to do more workshops in schools and encourage other artists to get involved. If you can reach one kid who is struggling and help them out then it will be worth it.
I don’t just want to paint pictures, I want to make a difference.
You can see more of Simmons’s work at richsimmonsart.com. For more on Art Is The Cure see artisthecure.org
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