Danny Simmons Alone Together collects recent paintings by the abstract expressionist whose complex, subtle works defy an ebullient personality. Simmons is an artist worth discovering or rediscovering. It’s up at the George Billis Gallery, 521 West 26th Street, 7th Floor, in New York City, until September 28th.
I was lucky to swing an invitation to a private reception for Alone Together where, it turned out, a camera followed Danny Simmons around. They filmed footage for a documentary, and the artist gave them a lot to work with, visiting affably with guests in a room filled with his work.
In the lobby, I ran into YRB Magazine senior editor Jonn Nubian. YRB sponsors Alone Together along with Oglivy and Black Diaspora.
“You know he started a gallery right over there,” he said, pointing across 26ht Street. “Until then, there was no African-American art representation” in Chelsea.
That was an early footprint for this pioneer who also kicked off Def Poetry Jam with his brother Russell and co-founded the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. Rush gives disadvantaged urban kids “arts access and education.”
But it’s about Danny Simmons art…
Modern art shares roots with jazz, and you feel that commitment to freed, personal rhythms at the moment when the paintings reveal themselves. It takes time. Few artworks land instantly, and those that do tend to disappear as quickly.
No surprise, in a room set aside for videos, conversation turned to Miles Davis and the seminal jazz album, Birth of the Cool.
About Danny Simmons Alone Together
Nothing’s simple about Simmons’s artwork, although it’s easy to enjoy. But the longer you look, the more the action, the shifting motions and rhythms play out. The man has a lot to say.
Alone together, in a sense, is a side view of a powerful character who also writes poetry and novels and still finds time to plant seeds for the future.
Like other great artists, Simmons devoted himself to painting when he realized how much he hated his job. He had to escape New York City’s government bureaucracy. The rest is history.
In the end, the artwork we see in this show is personal. Unlike some abstract artists, Simmons titles his work. I asked him about that, wondering how he dreamed up names for hundreds of pieces.
“I like to give them some direction,” Simmons told me.
Then, in a jovial aside, he said he used to have more elaborate titles. He laughed lightly as if such things were the extravagances of his youth.
That’s Danny Simmons, an uncompromisingly serious artist with a warmth and humor that makes him — and his work — close to irresistible.