Featured Artist: Danny Simmons

Age: 62

Hometown:    NYC

Job description:   artist

Select links: http://www.dannysimmonsarts.com/

Bio: Danny Simmons, Jr., is an American abstract painter from Queens, NY. Simmons brings an equal passion to the written word, thanks to his father, also an outstanding poet. The elder Simmons’ example during a time of racial strife and social upheaval impressed upon Danny the importance of maintaining integrity and serving as an advocate for truth and right. These experiences prompted Danny to pen the critically acclaimed ‘Three Days as the Crow Flies’ and ‘I Dreamed My People Were Calling But I Couldn’t Find My Way Home.’ In his most recent release, titled ‘Deep in Your Best Reflection,’ Simmons takes on a more personal tone in a compilation of real-life texts and emails shared with a former girlfriend.

Danny Simmons played an instrumental role in the nation’s newfound love for poetry, particularly in the conceiving of and co-producing the hit HBO show Def Poetry Jam, a weekly TV series that exhibits an eclectic blend of old-school poets (such as legendary expressionists Nikki Giovanni and Amiri Baraka) and new-school poets. Its success is quite evident: Def Poetry is now offered as an elective at the University of Wisconsin, and Simmons won a Tony Award for the Broadway version of the show. 

Simmons is co-founder, along with his siblings, music mogul Russell, and hip hop legend Joseph Simmons aka “Rev Run,” and president of the Rush Arts Gallery. He is also founder and VP of the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization “dedicated to providing disadvantaged urban youth with significant arts exposure and access to the arts.” He is a former board member of the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Public Library, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the National Conference of Artists. 


What have you been working on recently? I have 5 solo shows coming up between now and April so I’m constantly  painting but in between studio time I’m working on a new poetry book. It will be my fourth book of poetry. And I’ve been working on a poetry album with jazz legend Ron Carter on Blue Note Records.


You just moved to Philly from NY? 

NYC was great, but my day had gotten somewhat routine. I was so hectic with board of directors meetings, four different  organizations and my own Arts foundation. The two galleries I’d  established, Rush Arts and Corridor Gallery, were on autopilot so there wasn’t too much involvement there. I was bored basically. I’d been coming to Philly a great deal and saw it as a new start where I’d spend more time as an artist, establish a new gallery and meet  new folks.


You’ve published a number of books.

Six books to date: three poetry, a novel, a graphic novel and the story of Def Poetry which I co-created.


Can you discuss some of the themes your work revolves around?

Most of my work reflects trying to use painting as a spiritual conduit. I try to tie in tribal musings to connect to modern society. Much like modernists I rework or better reimagine non sculptural  tribal paintings and markings into a modern context. There are points of spiritual connection I use dots, circles, interconnected lines all together to form an abstract painting landscape.


Describe your current work.

My current work has found the use of textiles intermixed with painting as a source of inspiration.


What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have

Paint in silence, early morning  or late night…


What’s your art/ music background?

Self taught.


What’s been happening in your life?

Opening the new gallery and getting to know a new city. Meeting new people and art… attending shows and finding my way to Philadelphia art institutions.


What’s next for you?

Finishing these new paintings, the new book and getting the gallery up and running in September. A mural project in Philly.


Do you have any shows coming up?

One in Philadelphia (at The Bazemore Gallery in Manayunk: 4339 Main Street), one in NYC, Houston and San Diego. A group show at the African American Museum here in Philly…


Is any of your work political?

Political in the way that reclaiming a relationship  with humanity’s spiritual wholeness is. Sometimes the titles reference the Black struggle here in the USA as it’s also a spiritual problem for everyone.



Have you won any awards you’d like to talk about? I have plenty  but the biggest two were the Tony for Def Poetry and I was given a replica of the Brooklyn Bridge by the Borough president…only five of those had ever been awarded.


What lead to the creation of Def Poetry Jam? 

Def Poetry was created from my having poets perform in my gallery and a poet Bruce George bugging me to take the spoken word movement to the next  level…I branded it Def Poetry in lieu of Russell, My Brother, Having Def Comedy Jam On HBO.


You were the recipient of an honorary PhD from Long Island University?
I received  the PhD from LIU because of the 20 years of work I put into promoting the arts for unrepresented and emerging artists. LIU was the school I got a Masters Degree from in Public Finance.


What lead to you being awarded a replica of the Brooklyn Bridge?

The Brooklyn Bridge is given to people who have impacted the fabric of life in Brooklyn…I’d served on the Boards of Brooklyn Public Library, the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Philharmonic and the New York Foundation for the Arts and was the Chairman of the State Arts Council and sat for the Governor on the Board of Brooklyn Bridge Park. I helped start the Brooklyn Book Festival and was a founding member of the Brooklyn Tourism Council…I’d run a Brooklyn gallery for 15 years.


How has the meaning of your work changed over time?

It was more overtly political  in the early stages  of my career.


What is your dream project?

I take ’em as they come..no real dream project except making Rush a national organization.


What was your childhood like?

I had an amazing  childhood..my teen years were steeped in politics.


What are a few of your favorite spots in your area?

My home…Amalgam Comic Book Store in Kensington And Brave New World In Old City and the smoothie truck.


Describe your current state of mind.

Optimistic and excited.


What’s inspiring you?

The newness of everything with the move.


What are you reading?



Fiction authors who inspire you?   

Ishmael Reed, Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany and many of the existentialist authors.


What are you listening to these days?

Classic Rock.


What was the last exhibit you attended?

Nari Ward at the Barnes Foundation.


Your website: Danny simmons arts.com


Danny’s works appear at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn Museum, Chase Manhattan Bank, Deutsche Bank, Schomburg Center for Black Culture, The Smithsonian and the United Nations. He has shown work in France, Amsterdam and Ghana. In 2015, he served as a scholarly consultant for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, DC.


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