Although his brothers have a bigger slice of the media spotlight, Danny Simmons has forged his path as a multidisciplinary artist to be reckoned with. Simmons, a renowned painter of abstract-expressionist oil works, owns the Rush Arts Gallery in Manhattan and Corridor Gallery in Brooklyn. He is also the oldest of the Simmons brothers, each of the whom has had his day in the spot light. Russell is head of Def Jam Records; rapper (now preacher) Joseph is Run of the iconic rap group Run DMC. Danny has chosen art as his creative outlet and achieved a similar feat with the spoken word movement as originator of the Peabody and Tony award-winning Def Poetry Jam. He will be in Philadelphia on Tuesday and Wednesday to talk about art and poetry at two special events at Vivant Art Collection and the African American Museum.
After a health crisis waylaid him, Danny Simmons found himself drawn back to the power of poetry. “I’ve never stopped writing,” he explained. “I’ve never stopped being a poet. I guess what really sparked me writing poetry again was I really couldn’t paint for a while. I’d gotten really, really sick: I came back from Jamaica with salmonella and I was in the hospital for three months. It did a lot of strange things. I have a hip replacement, and the bacteria destroyed my hip replacement, so I really couldn’t stand and paint — and I paint while standing. I paint quite often, so not being able to paint pushed me to do something. I can’t just sit there with all of these things going on inside me without expressing it. Poetry was my first love, so I just went back to my first love.”
Thus, the visual artist has reclaimed his inner poet and published a fascinating (and quite sexy) book of prose entitled “Deep in Your Best Reflection – Poems in 160 Characters” (dannysimmonspoetry.com, $20). The little black book is the latest for the author, who has also published “I Dreamed My People Were Calling But I Couldn’t Find My Way Home,” a volume of poetry and paintings, and “Three Days As The Crow Flies,” a novel about the NYC arts scene in the turbulent 1980s.
“For me, it’s a more thoughtful process than painting,” says Simmons. “Painting is a more intuitive process, and a channeling experience for me. With poetry, really it’s really more of a soul-searching and emotional process, where painting for me is more of a spiritual thing because I really connect with the spirit when I’m painting, but I connect with myself more when I'm writing poetry.”
The headline events featuring Danny Simmons will span two days, starting with a conversation on “The Role of an Artist, Collector, and Institution in the Urban Art Community,” on May 22 at 6 p.m. hosted by Vivant Art Collection. The goal of the conversation is to explore the dynamic contributing roles of the art world and the impact in the urban art community. On May 23 at 6 p.m., the African American Museum in Philadelphia will host a book reading and signing of “Deep in Your Best Reflection-Poems in 160 Characters,” featuring a special performance by members of the poetry collective, Spoken Soul 215. Both days will include a tour of Philadelphia’s famous arts institutions, including the city’s Mural Arts Program, the Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts.