OWITY INTERVIEW


Pop art is not traditional, it's becoming traditional but the movement sure does need a few more years. The pop art movement isn't even that old, we're talking early 80's though majority of the recognition came in the early 90's with big names such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann and Keith Haring. Fine art took a turn, becoming fun, more accessible and less serious. Rich Simmons is an example of just that, he's a Pop Artist himself and a good one at that! His art shows a lot of inspiration from many of the innovators in the movement. The vibrant use of colours and various designs make his artwork very appealing for someones space. You cannot miss his artwork when entering a room.

One of my favourite aspects of Rich Simmons art is the accessibility of his artwork. His work is very accessible through his website and he makes that clear. Artwork from established artist's can be hard to access at times depending on who the artist is and how established they're in the art market in regards to their artwork selling at auctions. Simmons has artwork that has fetched in the thousands, yet he continues to make sure some of his artwork is very accessible for those who just love art and want to own artwork from an established artist like himself.


OWITY: How did your career start, when did you know you wanted to be an artist? And why is Pop Art your choice of style?

RICH SIMMONS: I always knew I wanted to do something creative from a young age, whether that was in the art world or as some kind of storyteller. My heroes have always been Leonardo da Vinci and Stan Lee so emulating one of them in some small way was always a goal. I would experiment with different techniques and always found it fun to learn new skills and new ways to creative narratives. That experimentation led me to discovering stencils and street art. It combined my love of illustration, engineering and spray paint and I’ve been learning and trying to master it to tell stories in different ways for almost 20 years now.


My first break as an artist was creating a piece before the royal wedding in 2011 of Will and Kate dressed like the famous Jamie Reid photo of Sid and Nancy from the Sex Pistols at Southbank skatepark. It was the right piece at the right time and it got global media coverage and I was offered gallery deals, print deals and more overnight. It was at this point I had to figure out who I was as an artist and roll with the opportunities presented and transition from someone just doing stencils and street art for fun, and find my own style that would work in galleries. This artistic evolution I had to undergo would end up being inspired by different influences from pop art, street art, comic books and more to create something that felt like my own thing that I would enjoy painting.


OWITY: At what point of your career as an artist felt like you "made it"? Cliche to ask but personally at what time during your career did say to yourself "I am an established artist within the art world"?

RICH SIMMONS: When I started exhibiting with Opera Gallery, I was hanging in the same space as artists I admired growing up. The likes of Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Ron English and more. I had a serious case of imposter syndrome because as much as I had been painting and cutting stencils for years, it was always just for me and practice, never exhibited. To have my first tastes of working with a gallery and being alongside my heroes was definitely a case of being thrown in at the deep end and seeing if I could swim or not.

It took me stepping away from this gallery and trying my luck with a smaller gallery who gave me more creative freedom to explore who I wanted to be as an artist and take that initial experience with a major gallery and try and prove myself. I went on to do several solo shows in London but it wasn’t until I got opportunities to exhibit in New York that I began to find my confidence more and feel like I deserved these opportunities. To this day, I still feel more like the nerdy art kid, happy to be alone in a studio making paintings than an established artist but maybe thats the right mentality to have. Remain humble, stay grateful for opportunities and continue to be hungry to prove myself as an artist.


OWITY: I see that you've ventured into the NFT space recently. Though you're a traditional artist, do you think all artist's will eventually all have NFT's as well as their traditional tangible work?

RICH SIMMONS: My head says probably yeh, thats the way the world is heading with more digital, online technologies shaping the way we see and experience the world. My heart says I hope not because I still feel like the artists hand, creating something physical that could hang in a museum in the future is still what is most important. There is a level of skill and craftsmanship that comes with creating a piece of art, whether thats with paint, clay, ink, or even musically.

A song written on guitar or piano will always feel more real than something created in a computer and for me, it’s the same with art. Don’t get me wrong, there's some incredibly talented artists and musicians embracing technology and creating things that just wouldn’t be possible with hand held tools, but I still feel like the physical touch of a creator is more valuable.

OWITY: Which artist has been the most influential to your both as a person and their artwork?

RICH SIMMONS: Growing up, I was naturally curious and creative, with loves for not only art, but also engineering and science. I wanted to know how things worked, so I would take CD players apart to look inside them. I built lego without instructions and figured out how to make art by experimenting with everything I could get my hands on. There’s only one artist who embodied the arts, sciences and engineering I loved so much growing up and that was Leonardo da Vinci.


I never wanted to just be an artist, painting things and being satisfied with that. I wanted to be a storyteller in more than just paint. I taught myself business when I was 19 as a graphic designer and music promoter, playing bass guitar in bands, booking and marketing gigs and learning how to paint on days off from jobs at coffee shops. At 22 I launched an art therapy organisation called Art Is The Cure to promote creative healing and mental health awareness and I’ve gone on to develop new stencil styles and painting techniques as an artist. I also wrote my first novel over lockdown and I once built a social networking platform with a friend in my spare time.

The only artist I feel a connection to lived over 500 years ago but the things he achieved, the work he pioneered and the art he created inspire people half a millennia later. If I can be a small fraction of the polymath da Vinci was, I will leave a mark on the world in my own way and thats what every artist should aspire to do.


OWITY: Every artist has a piece of artwork that stands out to them more. It may be the one that's fetched the most at auction or it may be one they own privately. Which piece is your favourite and you believe best represents you as an artist?

RICH SIMMONS: As a disciple of da Vinci, the Mona Lisa has a huge importance in my life. When I got to combine my reflections girls with that iconic piece by Leonardo, I knew that would become my favourite piece and I have gone on to create a number of different colour variants, various prints and even flew half way round the world to paint a huge 4 storey building in Arkansas USA with that piece to mark the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death in 2019.

The reflections series started with Superman and Batman kissing in the lenses and that piece opened doors for me and began the series of girls with glasses, reflecting different things. The Mona Lisa reflections was a culmination of 5 years of work, development and growth as an artist and it represents more to me than I can say.


OWITY: Because our platform merges Art and Investing. We have to ask, which artwork of yours has fetched the highest amount?

RICH SIMMONS: I did a piece for a Christies charity auction in 2018, helping kids with cerebral palsy. There were 10 artists who created works for the auction, inspired by working with one of the kids the charity helps. The girl I did a workshop with told me she wanted to be the pink power ranger when she grew up and I tried to take that idea and show her facing adversities and danger like a superhero. When the artwork started selling for £10,000, £20,000, £30,000 a piece, I thought I had no chance of matching it. They put my piece on last and I figured they would milk the room with the early works, put forward by bigger artists backed by galleries on the night and leave my work for last to scrape up the crumbs.

I walked on stage before my lot was on, took the microphone from Simon de Pury who was the auctioneer on the night and I told the crowd what the piece meant, what the charity meant and thanked them for letting me be a part of it. I slowly walked back to my seat, satisfied that I had at least had a say. 5 minutes later, my piece sold for £52,000, the highest lot of the night. With a smile on my face, I grabbed my jacket, walked out and had an internal Del Boy auction episode moment before leaving the event.

Privately, my work sells in galleries for between £3,000 to £20,000 which still blows my mind but I’m grateful to everyone wh