Board Games and Excessiveness With Artist Kristin Simmons

We met Kristin Simmons at her studio on a crisp, Fall day in New York City. Her studio is filled with Barbie dolls, brightly colored artworks, and childhood board games. As we sat down, we noticed a large-scale ‘Candy Land’ board game she had created for her Senior Thesis at Columbia. Simmons had adjusted the innocent characters to explicit ones (we were amused and knew this was going to be a fun interview)! Mr. Mint was now Mr. Menthol and holding some cigarettes, Lord Licorice was now Lord Liquor, holding a bottle of what appeared to be Jack Daniels, and Queen Frostine was now the Blow Queen holding a rolled up dollar bill with cocaine.

 

We sat down with Simmons to discuss her bold, colorful work, growing up in New York City and her current show Desperate Pleasures at Galerie Mourlot.

 

AZ: What’s your morning routine?

Kristin Simmons: Coffee, Email, Instagram (for inspiration – I follow a few accounts that always get my brain started), and some yoga or stretching if I’m lucky!

 

AZ: Zodiac sign?

KS: Libra

 

AZ: Favorite museum?

KS: The Whitney (when it used to be uptown…I made my Mom take me there when I was four years old to stare at Jasper Johns’ work for hours!)

Sucker for pain

 

AZ: How did your experience at boarding school shape you as an artist, if at all?

KS: My high school mentor, Mr.Dickinson, was my art teacher at Deerfield. I am forever grateful to him for his enthusiasm, passion, and support of my work. The training was formal, but I’m a big believer in getting your artistic foundation down and skill (aka – figure drawing, landscape, still-life etc.) before you can “break” the rules. This is something he continues to say to his students.

 

AZ: Sources of inspiration?

KS: Magazines (I came from the corporate ad world), Art Books (yes, I still collect hard copies) and things I hear from my friends or overhear whether I’m in a Starbucks or on the subway.

 

AZ: You studied Studio Art and Art History at Columbia, talk to us about that experience?

KS: Columbia allowed me to refine my voice as an artist and break the rules. Literally, I once got a letter of reprimand and almost lost my private studio space because of a sexualized paint party performance I directed and participated in.

 

 

AZ: You mentioned as a child, you color coordinated and organized all of your toys. How as that affected your practice?

KS: I am definitely on the OCD spectrum and can’t work unless my space is clean and organized. Sometimes that means spending half a day re-organizing and cleaning my studio space before I can begin (or continue working) on a piece.

 

AZ: Favorite medium?

KS: Paint (acrylic and oil – I’m a Libra, don’t make me decide between one or the other!)

 

AZ: You use a lot of colorful and bold typography, do you have a favorite font?

KS: Neutraface. It can be used in almost any context and look clean, elegant and modern.

Bad Habits – Psychopath

 

AZ: On that same note, you use a lot of bright colors in your paintings, what significance does color play in your work?

KS: I’ve always been really sensitive to color – to the point where I start feeling depressed or angry if I’m in a room that feels too dark or unbalanced. Since most homes have white walls or more neutral tones, I use a lot of bright, bold and neon colors in my work. I think art should help activate spaces and make viewers feel warm, happy and excited when they look at the work.

 

AZ:”Culture of excess” is a theme that appears throughout your work. Talk to us about that.

KS: I need to write a book to even scratch the surface on that. But here is my cliff notes answer. I think advertising and the media in the 80s/90s (which is the thematic/visual time period I’m interested in) promoted both material AND financial excess. This is not to be confused with consumerism, which was very much a post-WW2 phenomena. Excess and appetites for objects that represent extravagance and power (including money itself) come with great psychological repercussions that we are seeing play out in today’s culture.

 

I read something recently that hit the nail on the head: “Money can never be the objective. The ’80s and ’90s taught us about financial freedom, but the idea was incomplete. The highest good of money is to enable you to create something that matters to you more, not just more money.” We are still incomplete as a culture regarding this idea and now actually regressing with drugs, depression and other negative symptoms to cure the gap we feel that money itself does not fill.

 

Holy Profits: American Expense

AZ: What can we expect to see at your newest exhibition “Desperate Pleasures?”

KS: I originally studied medicine before pursuing art. The idea of treatments and cures for psychological symptoms that are catalyzed by consumer culture continues to interest me. A lot of the new work focuses on juxtaposing medical trends (including illegal substance abuse) with objects that represent power, status and indulgence

 

AZ: One of our favorite pieces is the giant Monopoly board you created based on the different areas in NYC. What’s the significance of the Monopoly game to you?

KS: I used to work in advertising for real estate branding. There is so much identity and self-worth tied up in the branding for these multi-million dollar NYC residences that it has almost become a joke. At the end of the day, when you buy into a neighborhood here (which you can only do if you’re mega rich), you’re buying an IDENTITY and a way you want to be SEEN, not a home. Monopoly infuses us as children with this need to conquer, barter and (sometimes) deceive people in order to “win” property that equates to status.

 

AZ: Who are some of your greatest influences?

KS: James Rosenquist, Tomas Vu Daniel, Depeche Mode, Jane Fonda and Kathie Plourde.

AZ: Best advice you’ve ever received?

KS: “Find the thing in you that is different, that’s as sharp as a diamond and jagged as a razor. Hone that, because that’s the thing with which you’ll cut the world.”

 

AZ: What’s next for you?

KS: World Peace….just kidding. Although I would like that I don’t think I can single-handedly control it. Expect to see more 80s iconography and large-scale oil paintings dealing with a mash-up of imagery that confuses yet (hopefully) allures viewers.

 

Follow Kristin on instagram

 


top image // Michelle Repiso

all images // courtesy of the artist

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