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BETWEEN THE CAPES

Batman and Superman are two of the most iconic superheroes of all time. In many ways, they are at opposite ends of the hero spectrum. 


To start with, Batman doesn't have superpowers beyond his combat training, detective skills, and financial muscle. His sheer will to fight the injustices in the world that took his parents motivates him to become a hero.


Superman, on the other hand, is more God than man. An alien from another world, orphaned on Earth and raised with human morals to balance out his unmatched power. 


Between The Capes, Superman Kissing Batman by Pop Artist Rich Simmons

Both characters could be considered the definitions of an alpha male: strong, powerful, determined, and protective of their loved ones and the worlds they inhabit. Both adopt disguises at different ends of the society spectrum. Clark Kent is a modern-day God disguised as a mild-mannered reporter. Bruce Wayne is a billionaire who could have every luxury imaginable but would rather fight clowns, penguins, and scarecrows than party with the elite. 


The juxtapositions in these characters ' psyches and motivations have always fascinated me. Which is their true identity, and which is the disguise?


Is everyone I see walking down the street using a facade to hide their true feelings, strengths, and weaknesses? How many of us wish we had the power of a God to break free from the facades we cower behind? 


New York Times Front Page News Between The Capes, Superman Kissing Batman by Pop Artist Rich Simmons

We should never judge a book by its cover or, in this instance, a comic book. We can never truly know who uses a facade to hide their true identities, feelings, strengths or weaknesses. 


Just as Batman is only being true to his life's purpose by donning the cape and cowl, someone we walk past on the street could be doing the same thing with a particular item of clothing that gives them confidence. Maybe having headphones on and listening to a specific album or artist is how someone gets the strength to step outside and face the world. It isn't the antisocial act some think it is. Maybe the biggest show of strength is the ability to be ourselves, free from fear of judgement and persecution, and to live life on our terms. 


I feel like choice is a double-edged sword. How much of it do we really have? We can choose to dress a certain way. We can choose our favourite foods. But we don't decide how tall we will be. We don't choose our sexuality. Some things are learnt, some discovered, and some are hardwired into our genetics. Therefore, what do we have to decide when judging people? The only thing I can think of is their actions, which is also a matter of choice. 


It is in human nature to judge. It protects us and is an evolutionary advantage. Whether this creature or person looks like a danger to my tribe or me is a question we have built into us. In modern-day society, the part of the brain that evolved to sense dangers in the world has been shifted to unnecessary judgements. Kindness in itself is a superpower, and choosing to do the right thing through kindness is what can define heroism. 


As Batman said in Batman Begins, "It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me."


If I was trapped in a burning building and someone was coming to save me, whether a firefighter, police, a superhero or a passer-by who wants to do the right thing, they have a choice to act. They choose to be heroic. Does it matter whether that person is vegan? No. Does it matter if that person supports a different sports team than me? No. Therefore, why would it matter if that person was gay, trans or anything else they choose to identify as? The only thing I have a right to base an opinion on is their actions and willingness to help another human being in danger. Maybe if we found all our views on someone's actions and not by the colour of their skin, who they choose to love or how they identify, the world would be a much kinder place.


Between The Capes paintings in Taglialatella Gallery in New York, Superman Kissing Batman by Pop Artist Rich Simmons

Painting Batman and Superman in this embrace is my way of supporting equality and trying to shift people's conceptions and judgements they have held. By using iconic superheroes, I hope people question their actions as heroes and see that this aspect of their identity far outweighs who they choose to love and how they wish to identify. 


Christopher Reeve, who famously portrayed Superman, once said, "What makes Superman a hero is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to use the power wisely."


I am not a gay artist, and many people have asked me what gives me the right to paint something I don't identify as. My response to that has always been that I have a responsibility as an artist to make people aware of the struggles and issues of others. I have a platform to support others I love who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. Through their friendship and love, I felt a responsibility to paint something that many see as controversial. 

 

I have been threatened on the street when painting this work. I have had schools refuse to let me in to speak to students about Art Is The Cure because "he paints gay superheroes". This action denied hundreds of young people an opportunity to learn the reasons behind the pieces straight from the artist's mouth because they were scared I would spread 'gay ideologies' to students as if I had a superpower to convert people to different sexualities magically and it isn't their identity already. I have taken this abuse and these misguided judgements against me and continued to stand by my art and support people who identify differently. 


Pop Artist Rich Simmons creating a piece of street art called Between The Capes Reflections, Superman Kissing Batman

When Batman questioned his role, Alfred Pennyworth gave these words of wisdom.


"Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They'll hate you for it, but that's the point of Batman. He can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice."


Maybe that's sometimes the role of an artist, too: to highlight things society doesn't want to look at or question, to be a provocateur, a rebel, an outcast. 


I choose to endure. I choose to make the right choice. I choose to be a hero.


Between The Capes, Superman Kissing Batman by Pop Artist Rich Simmons

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