Struck Contemporary takes a closer look at UK artist Rich Simmons who creates original spraypainted works inspired by street art, pop art, and celebrity culture. Based in London, Simmons is known for his re-purposing of found materials in what he calls "street art archaeology", tearing down billboards and stripping away layers of advertising at the start of his process. Through his meticulously hand-drawn and hand-cut stencils, he is an artist who has seamlessly brought the techniques and materials of graffiti art to canvas.
Above image: Rich Simmons, New York Times Blonde, 2018, spraypaint on canvas
Contemporary pop artist Rich Simmons first skyrocketed to fame in 2011 for his punk-rock wedding mural of Will and Kate as the heroin-addicted Sex Pistols vocalist Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy (whom he was later charged of murdering during one of their drug binges in the Chelsea Hotel).
Rich Simmons, Future ***King, 2011, mural
The piece, titled Future ***King, was based on an iconic 1985 photograph of Sid and Nancy that Simmons spun-off into an image fit for the British tabloids. Spray-painted in London’s Southbank skate park, the mural featured smiling heads Will & Kate dressed as the punk-rock junkie couple. Mirroring the electric fandom surrounding the royal marriage, Simmons’s fun, pop art style took hold and became an overnight sensation.
Citing Andy Warhol, Shepard Fairey, and Keith Haring as some of his biggest inspirations, Simmons’s style is a blend of many forms from pop art and comic book illustration to ‘50s advertising.
In Reflections and New York Times Blonde, Simmons borrows the blown-up, exaggerated compositions of Lichtenstein but creates his own fan fiction by swapping out Lois Lane for the Dark Knight.
Rich Simmons, Reflections Greyscale, 2015, 30 x 40 in., spraypaint on canvas
In this tongue-and-cheek version of comic book romance, Superman is shockingly seen with and not vs. Batman. Even the most well-loved superheroes are not untouchable to Simmons. That a superhero could be gay, alpha-male, the rescuer, and the rescued is just one way the artist ruffles gender conventions and pushes for inclusive art.
On the topic of his kissing superheroes, Simmons has said, "I wanted to make a statement about equality, but at the same time ask questions about heroism and superheroes' private lives, which we don't always see in comic books. Taking the two most iconic alpha male superheroes and presenting them in an embrace not only shocks you into asking questions about gay equality, but also what it takes to be a hero."
With a knack for subversion, Simmons has gone on to create art that both poses as and critiques celebrity culture. His 2012 series Just Be You Ti Ful features the text in large graphic letters as a message of body positivity while calling out unrealistic beauty standards in mass media.
Rich Simmons, Rooftop Romance, Just Be You Ti Ful series, 2016, 40 x 30 in., spraypaint on canvas
Rich Simmons, Just Be You Ti Ful Hollywood Red, 2016, 40 x 30 in., spraypaint on reclaimed billboard
In a tedious process of planning and hand-cutting multiple stencils for each piece, Simmons has brought the techniques of street art into the gallery. The cleanness of his lines and absence of spraycan bleed is the mark of a young artist who has perfected a labour-intensive practice.
An exception is the Pin Ups, where Simmons intentionally lets the paint drip and splatter in his spoof of ‘50s subculture, where pin-up models turn into graffiti artists and spraypaint loud (sometimes obscene) words on the street.
Rich Simmons, Fuck Graffiti Red from the series Pin Ups, 2016, 40 x 30 in., spraypaint on canvas
Despite being exhibited in galleries internationally, Simmons still enjoys hitting the streets and making larger-than-life murals. Taking a stroll around the artist’s Croydon neighbourhood in London, you’ll be sure to find his familiar characters and startling humour in the most unexpected places!
To see Rich Simmons's original stencil works on canvas, drop by Struck Contemporary Art Gallery, 365 Dupont Street, Toronto.
Rich Simmons, Between the Capes, mural