“Badass Art Man,” a ground-breaking exhibit featuring the original artwork of Danny Simmons, coupled with objects from his eclectic collection of African and African-American art and historic objects, opens today at the African American Museum in Philadelphia.
The exhibit will offer visitors a unique perspective on Simmons, who has been identified by the International Review of African American Art as one of the “top ten players in the Black art market.” He is also an avid collector whose private collection includes an extensive collection of traditional African works, contemporary works by Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker, Derrick Adams, Sol Sax, and historic art and artifacts, including works by James Van Der Zee and the first Black comic book (c. 1941).
Simmons’ artistic talents and interests are broad and varied. “It has been a life totally immersed in the arts,” explained Simmons, who once coined his particular style of painting as “Neo-African abstract expressionism.” “Painting, for me, is an evolutionary process, sometimes even revolutionary, but I’ve been adding different materials into the painting; so right now a lot of the paintings I have been creating is a combination of paint and using abstract and African patterns and fabrics to create part of the painter’s landscape.”
Founder of Def Poetry Jam and co-founder of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation and Corridor Galleries in New York City, Simmons, along with his younger brothers Russell and Joseph (Rev. Run), has invested decades into nurturing emerging artists and exposing underserved youth to high quality arts education.
“One of the things that has given me encouragement over the years is working with kids, directly, indirectly or in the arts,” said Simmons. “Those things are encouraging when you see that you’ve started the career of young artists and that you are educating kids in the art. It gives you a lot of strength to continue to move forward. Over the years, I’ve given 50 percent of my time to my being an artist and 50 percent to empowering kids and other artists. It has struck a nice balance. And also, I have been on the boards of directors of a lot of arts institutions; so just creating an environment here in Brooklyn that was friendly to arts, and especially friendly to the arts of African Americans and emerging artists, is an empowering thing — and that power is translated and transferred into one being an artist themselves. It is hard to be an artist and advocate for the arts without being encouraged when you see other artists making strides.”
Simmons is also the author of five books, the latest titled, “The Brown Beatnik Tomes” (KMW Studio, $40), his second book to marry images and poetry.
“For me, painting probably is my first love, but poetry allows me to delve into those same creative impulses,” said Simmons. “Art, really for a creator, is getting their feelings, emotions and thoughts and sharing them. So, I was able to do that with my poetry … I was able to get those creative impulses and hone them while working on poetry. It is kind of transferable.”
Of his upcoming collection, Simmons said, “I am honored that the African American Museum in Philadelphia and its curator, Leslie Guy, will be exhibiting selected works from my collection, paired with my paintings. The show is an expansive reflection of my artistic sensibilities, both as an artist and as a collector. ‘Badass Art Man’ ... I think they get me.”
The African American Museum in Philadelphia presents the debut of “Badass Art Man: Danny Simmons Original and Collective Works” from April 24 to May 31. For more information, visit aampmuseum.org or call (215) 574-0380.