Gregory Simmons in Depth About His Art, Life, The Internet, The Current State of The World and More

by Rubén Palma
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Gregory Simmons (American, b. 1984), is an emerging artist producing oil, pastel, and gouache paintings. He documents his observations in popular culture and memorializes fleeting moments taking place on social media. Recently, Simmons has added social commentary to his work and is exploring ideas of identity within the context of media and pop culture. Simmons grew up skating and taught himself to paint by replicating imagery from television. He lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

Hi Greg! Thank you for sitting down with me. First question that I always ask. How does a regular day look like for you in Brooklyn?

Hey Rubén, thanks for chatting with me! A regular day in Brooklyn, for me, either looks like an L train ride to work and serve the people or take 2 trains to get to my studio. Either will begin with a sea moss smoothie, breakfast sandwich, coffee and last night’s left over spliff.

So growing up, what kind of kid were you, what did you enjoy doing and how did you spend your time?

I grew up as an only child to a hard working single mom. I was a latchkey kid. I’d either be watching Nickelodeon or playing Nintendo, or be at the mall. Once I started skateboarding at 13, you could find me in the streets with my little gang of friends. 

I’ve interviewed Erik Foss, Fred Smith, Chris Regner, Peter Jeppson, Travis Spinks, Ben Cooney, Jack Shure and Drew Englander who also mention that they were heavy into skateboarding. I think that’s pretty crazy and it makes me curious. What do you think it is about skater kids that makes them turn into such dope artists?

Skateboarding helps you to switch to the creative side of your brain, in my opinion. We tend to look at the world differently than people who don’t skate. Seeing marble planters as a sick spot, using your imagination to envision a trick, all those things contribute, to me. Also, skateboard videos could introduce you to a world of music, visual styles. Board graphics played a big part in quirky, rebellious and sometimes off putting art subjects for me growing up.

So when did you start painting? And when did you start taking being an artist serious?

I’ve been drawing and coloring for as long as I can remember. I probably started painting in high school, learning fundamentals and techniques. Senior year I had 2 art classes then went to art school for graphic design. That was more computer based art, but we still learned a bit about fine art. But I didn’t take myself seriously until the past few years. Pandemic really gave me time to paint more than I ever have before and I’ve been keeping up with the routine ever since.

Im curious. Being that you live in Brooklyn, which have produced some of the most well known and iconic hip hop artists of our time. Has that influenced you or your work in any way?

I think I can credit skateboarding, again for this question. I was really big into east coast skating. Zoo York mixtape and Supreme really shaped my views on music and counterculture. Cynical themes, irony, and finding the light inside dark issues often fuel what I find interesting to paint; Just like a lot of hip hop from Brooklyn.

I wanna ask you about WSHH. Worldstaaaaaar! What influence do you think that platform has had on society and culture as we know it for the past 18 years?

WORLDSTAAARRRR!! I love worldstar. I think it’s definitely desensitized us from a lot of intense images. They’re the news told from the perspective of a junkie on Myrtle & Broadway. Unfiltered fuckery. I remember when I was younger you had to watched banned VHS’s like Faces of Death in order to see some of the things WSHH has to offer on a daily basis. I enjoy it because it captures a lot of the fleeting social media moments that inspire me so much. Worldstar is my muse.

And how about the internet in general?

I’m grateful for the internet. I know it’s all a double edged sword. What’s scary about the internet is how rapidly it advances. I’m showing my age, but I remember the days of the early internet. AOL was a big thing here. You’d get the 7 day trial CD’s in the mail, with the wonky dial up internet. The sound of the internet connecting. It was crazy! Now, you’ve got augmented reality, AI, algorithms, etc. It’s a lot. Especially now that Black Mirror has planted predictive programming onto us with all the dystopia that can come from it all. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s connected us all in ways that I would’ve never imagined seeing as a kid. One day, though, it would be amazing if we all collectively decided not to use it. One can wish.

I’m curious… What’s your take on the overall state of the world? 

Say your prayers and kiss your ass goodbye! I think things have to get worse before they get better. I feel like we’re overexposed to media that promotes what’s wrong with the world, and we hardly recognize what’s right with the world. I wish people could tap in, more, with their natural intuitive spiritual selves. We’re so fear based these days, as a whole and it makes us weak. Great art can come from desperation, and I believe we’re going through an art renaissance, but I want more people to tap in and bear witness to the untapped powers they’ve got within.

What made you want to document various viral and iconic scenes from social media, from all kinds of genres, and memorialize them through your paintings?

You know, I just saw these moments, thought they were so funny that I felt inclilned to paint it. They looked very cinematic and reminded me of some of the reinssance paintings. Seeing the images out of context, suspendid in time just felt like the thing to do. The more moments I documented the more I felt like I’m archiving a moment in our history that we’ll look back at and laugh and learn from. I want future generations to discover the works and learn about the crazy crazy 2020’s and beyond.

With that in mind, you’re exploring the ideas of identity within the context of media and pop culture. Tell me more about that please.

With there being so much memorable, but fleeting content on the internet, I just want to freeze frame these moments. I want to create conversations around them that educate, but also point the lense on how insane we were during this time. I feel like social media has turned us all into performers and I’m happy to tell the story strories of our descent into being charactchrues of our former selves.

What makes painting your preferred medium of expressing yourself, and not photography for example?

I actually take a lot of film photos! I take my point & shoot with me everywhere. Painting, though, is just the discipline I love. I enjoy the challenge incolved, I enjoy getting to know the people in the pieces, or the minor details of scene, I enjoy seeing the pieces coming together. I enjoy mixing paints, strategically placing them on the canvas.  

Can you walk me through your creative process. From beginning, to end result?

Doom scroll, doom scroll, doom scroll, rewind, screenshot, save in a folder, think of what medium the idea would look best in, go to the studio, get messy.

How do you approach color?

I let the moment i’m depicting dicate the color schemes I use. Thanks to the oils and pastels I use, the colors are accurate, but so vibrant it feels exxagerated. Most of the time the colors mesh together and look pretty. 

 Now on to something totally different. What’s it like being a parent to an 18 year old, when you’re still in your 30s :D?

Stressful, hahaha. It’s a blessing though. Liberating to see him reach adulthood. I’ts really nice to see him grow up. I feel like we grew up together! He was my sidekick for years. I had to learn to let go once he became a teenager. Now, I just want him to be a happy, productive citizen with a lot to offer….and dont bring any babies into the world until you’re my age!

What motivates you?

My son motivates me. I’m his first example. I cleaned up my act once he was born and found myself with a new fuel to my fire. Also, just feeling like I’m not where I want to be yet. I want shows internationally, I want to reach higher grounds in the art world.

How would you describe a perfect day?

Wow, ahhh. A perfect day would start with an amazing meal at home, acai seamoss smoothie, espresso, water, weed, solitude for a little bit, music, create something fun, funny and beautiful, skate, get a trick, more food, more weed and some relaxation on the couch with my lady in front of the TV. On a summer day, the beach would be included in the equation.  

Alright Greg. I always ask these two questions at the end of an interview. The first is. What’s your favorite movie(s) and why?

One of my favorties movies is Half Baked. You’ve got a great cast, hilarous jokes, light hearted, memorable stoner humor. 

The second is. What song(s) are you currently listening to the most right now?

Well, for 2 years in a row, I’ve been told by Apple Music that I listen to Westside Gunn more than anyone. I’ve really been into his song Dunhill with Rick Ross because it’s larger than life. When I’m in a mellow mood, I’ve really been enjoying Sam Gendel’s blueblue. When i’m feeling Irie i’ve been playing Eat Man by Pinchers. But my new favorite artist has been Ata Kak out of Ghana. Check him out! Adagya is my Jam! 

Profile picture by: Jeremy Elkin

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