Danny Simmons is the eldest of the Simmons brothers’ triumvirate, the hip-hop bosses from Hollis Queens, N.Y., that includes business mogul Russell Simmons and rapper and reality star Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons.
A noted artist, novelist, poet and creator of the Tony Award-winning HBO show “Def Poetry,” Danny is a public impresario who sits on the boards of the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Academy of Music and is a member of the New York State Council on the Arts. Also, his abstract paintings are held in the collections of Chase Manhattan Bank, the United Nations and the Hampton University in Virginia.
A mini-retrospective of his abstract-expression collection will anchor eMerge: Danny Simmons & Artists on the Cusp exhibition at Strivers Garden Gallery.
Here, the co-founder of Rush Arts Gallery + Resource Center, a core program of the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, speaks briefly about his art from the past three decades — and when he first discovered his creative gift. –yvette caslin
Why did you agree to be a part of this program?
My life’s work has been dedicated to providing opportunity to emerging artists. My Rush Arts Gallery has helped to launch the careers of some of the world’s most noted artists of color.
This opportunity to exhibit with artists on the cusp of entering the global arts discourse is very gratifying and a great way to demonstrate my respect and admiration for new and exciting talent. To be chosen in this capacity to lead by example is quite a large feather in my artistic cap.
What can art enthusiasts expect from Danny Simmons in this exhibition?
I have four pieces in the show that span my career as an artist starting with a door that I painted back in 1989 titled “No Exit” to a piece that I painted last year — a piece painted on bark, cloth which is fiber from made from trees in the Congo by the Pygmy people. The others are abstract paintings, “After They Took All They Could Take” and “The Complicated and Ongoing Search for Suitable Objects of Worship,” which was created in the ’90s. They are four aspects that illustrate the development of my career.
When did you first realize you were an artist?
I started painting when I was young. I started painting in earnest 25 years ago. That’s when I started showing my art work. I was a social worker at the time. The responses that I received and the feelings that I was getting from painting [led] me to being an artist full time.
Do you miss social work?
In a way, I still do social work with our foundation that provides services to both emerging artists and children — we have a children’s program that goes into the New York City school system. We have two galleries: one in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan.
How did you make the transition?
I was lucky enough to own a multifamily house. The rental income covered my basic bills. The transition wasn’t as hard.
What three items would you never be caught without?
I paint on the top floor of my building. I had a skylight cut in the roof. The natural light that beams in is really essential [and ethereal]. It gives a different energy not only does it illuminate the painting in a natural way, you can see the true colors. I paint with oil and the powdered pigments that I mix are really vibrant. I have an old easel. I’ve had it for 20 years; it’s caked with paint and it feels like a part of me. If I didn’t have it, I would feel like I’ve lost part of my history.