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Exhibition Essay
January 22, 2021

A Visionary’s Year in Review: “Danny Simmons… Studio Time”

About the Author
Kevin Sun

See the exhibition here


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Art can be understood as the intersection between the internal and the external. Artists draw inspiration from their emotions and their imagination, as well as the environment around them, the wider world and all its complexities. This year, historical events unfurled that impacted the country and indeed, the entire world. Yet, even as we faced these challenges as a collective, due to quarantine, we spent more time alone than ever before. For Danny Simmons Jr., this presented an opportunity to dedicate himself to his studio practice without interruption, to create art that reflects these extraordinary times. The latest InLiquid gallery exhibition presents a collection of abstract paintings created by Simmons throughout the pandemic. To gaze into the mind of a visionary, visit Danny Simmons… Studio Time, on view until Saturday, February 20. A virtual opening will be held on January 23, 6-7 pm, featuring a reading of Simmons’ newest poetry and special guests throughout the evening.
Simmons’ neo-African abstract expressionist style is a testament to art’s ability to bridge the dichotomy of interiority versus externality, the subjective versus the objective. His paintings do not rely on the precise representation of recognizable subjects, instead opting to express his perspective through striking composition, evocative symbolism, and boldly juxtaposed colors. He creates a vision that is singular and uncompromising, yet accessible, offering a conduit to the personal through the universal and vice versa. Distinct artistic motifs, including overlapping circular forms, evenly dispersed dots, and dripping paint, lend artistic unity to the collection and provide thematic insight into these abstract works.
A concept explored by Simmons’ work is the interconnectivity of the human experience, the ties and relationships between people, chosen and otherwise. Intertwined is composed of overlapping rings and ovals of various colors over a bright red background, with shapes grouped into sections of the same likeness. However, despite this separation, the different forms intersect and adhere to each other, sharing the same space. An iridescent pattern of eye-like shapes emerges from the right of the painting, engulfing black circlets, threatening to expand further. Some clusters are closer from the edge and some are further, but ultimately, their fates are tied to one another.
In Linked Up, groups of rings and ovals feature prominently as well, with white shapes primarily found in the upper region and tan ones in the bottom. In this painting, the shapes seem strategically unified, with lines connected and rings interlocked to safeguard against the pitch-black backdrop. A force pulls the shapes downwards, drips of paint falling from the tan forms as they sink towards the bottom of the painting. Three sets of eyes leer over the top of the painting, conveying a further sense of danger.
With two colors of circular shapes against a black background, Going Viral has a similar composition to Linked Up, save for the presence of white dots, snaking through the space between the clusters. It is difficult not to see these specks as infectious droplets in the air, spreading the virus from person to person. Three of the shapes towards the bottom of the painting have slashes running through them, perhaps indicative of those who have succumbed to this terrible disease.
Door Knocker/Foot Stomper is a remarkably composed piece, featuring a perfectly balanced arrangement of overlapping ovals of different colors. There is a rhythm to the spacing of the oblong shapes, evoking the footsteps of a moving crowd. Indeed, two overlapping black ovals towards the top edge closely resemble the heel and ball of a shoeprint. The forms fill the painting so completely that there is essentially no negative space, conveying the collective power of those motivated to act together.
Clarion Callin’ is another painting with striking composition. In the golden upper region, a red horn arches upwards, calling to the masses, represented by the white specks populating the bottom region. The division between a sparse upper half and densely populated lower one is reminiscent of a landscape’s horizon, giving the work a sense of narrative, perhaps depicting a climactic call to arms. The usage of primary colors—golden yellow, scarlet red, bright blue—adds to the elemental drama of the scene.
There is a bright dividing line between the self and the other. Throughout our entire lives, we never truly know what it’s like to be someone else. The most we can do is to put ourselves in their shoes, to empathize with their triumphs as well as their pain. Great art can help bridge that distance. It allows us to glimpse into the heart of the artist, to see the world through their eyes. The work of Danny Simmons Jr. serves as such a bridge. It extends a path towards understanding not only the artist, but also our friends, our enemies, and ourselves.
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