Whether it’s mental health, pop culture, politics, or capitalism, the provocative and unapologetically clever New York-based pop artist doesn’t shy away from the polemical.
Kristin Simmons wants you to know that everything in this world is a double-entendre. If you can’t see it, look closer. The New York-based pop artist focuses on hedonistic pleasures, in particular, the absolute pleasure of consumption. The ultimate combination of Barbara Kruger‘s feminism, Andy Warhol‘s screenprints, and Roy Lichtenstein‘s cheeky comics, Simmons’ work depicts the fulcrum of satiation, indulgence, innocence and debauchery. Using paint, printmaking, and mixed media to provide a running commentary on herself and her contemporaries, the artist’s work juxtapose colorful, graphic compositions which often contain childhood artifacts, Barbie dolls, pill bottles, glitter, and neon—with more sinister, sybaritic messages.
In addition to her upcoming show at Phillips Auction, Simmons has been featured in numerous group exhibitions, including at the 2016 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum in New York. She is currently an Artist in Residence with the United Nations SDG5.Global Alliance. Influenced by her own narrative of experiences in the real life “Mad Men” atmosphere of her first jobs in advertising, “Women Of Change,” is four commissioned pieces focusing on the gender wage gap, portraying an accurate but unfortunate reality where women in the 21st century continue to face significant pay inequality.
Whether it’s cigarette ads, credit card consumerism, Disney princesses on Xanax, or makeup and glitter on the American dollar bills’ founding fathers to criticize the absence of female faces on US currency, Simmons believes art can inspire provocative and uncomfortable topics, including meaningful conversation about what defines and confines the female experience in the 21st century. She not only hopes to give a voice to female artists, but also to inspire conversation about how we can eradicate harmful gender stereotypes through both action and reaction.
We visit the artist at her studio in Union Square to talk about the power of visual and verbal combinations—and she doesn’t sugarcoat her observations. (Except, of course, when she’s creating a 33-square-foot print of a Candyland board.)
Describe your series of work, Taliswoman.
This series was originally inspired by jewelry editorial images I saw in magazines and feature original photographs that have been translated into one of- a-kind, mixed media pieces. I wanted the images to be representative of the zeitgeist of millennials and women today and selected three of my close friends to model the jewelry (by Larkspur and Hawk) and even posed for photos myself.
Each of the women have real-life, high-powered careers, and the images posit the idea that women can, and should, be tenacious and driven, but can also be feminine and unapologetic. Combining humorous, satirical slogans, Taliswoman is not only about the double-standards surrounding female identity, but also about challenging what institutions expect or deem unacademic art, and questioning what constitutes “valuable” subject matter.
Describe your work in three words…
Sassy, Subtle, Subverted.
How does your background in advertising influence your work?
My concept is deeply embedded in the idea of criticizing consumption in the American culture. I think the connection between the two, especially if you’re a pop artist, is inseparable. Look at Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist, Ramos, Kruger etc., Art is about culture, and we live in a culture defined more and more by media.
Describe your series, Bad Habits, which satirizes cigarette ads and mental health.
It is no surprise that we are manipulated, both visually and socially, as an ongoing condition in our culture. Younger generations have long taken language traditionally used to describe the bad or abnormal and changed it into something good. In this same vein of calling something “crazy” or “mental” to express awe, cigarette brands have a long tradition of turning the bad or what should be labeled as “buyer beware” to good in advertising. Taking cues from the power of visual and verbal combinations, Bad Habits is a series of pastel hand-pulled screen prints combining the mutated language with its most obvious historical expression, the branding of the top six selling global cigarette labels.
Where do you source your materials?
I love looking at old magazines, toys and pop culture ephemera.
What motivates you to create?
Creating for me is like eating or breathing – if I don’t create I feel horrible.
What is your approach to color?
I am hugely affected by color so I am very sensitive to it in my work. I like things that are bright, punchy, and have a positive aura. There is so much darkness and sadness in the world that I would never want to contribute to it from an aesthetic perspective.
What is your philosophy on life?
The only constant is change.
What is one artist living or dead you feel a great connection to?
What’s something you will not be doing in 10 years?
I never say never about anything…at the very least not to jinx it!
Tools or mediums you’re dying to experiment with?
Sculpture, resin and 3D printers. Anyone who is reading this and wants to talk with me, let’s do it!
Silence or sound while creating? If sound, what are you listening to right now?
Sounds – typically 80s or 90s pop, it goes with the work 🙂
If you could have a drink with one artist, who would it be?
I prefer coffee since alcohol makes me sleepy…Helen Frankenthaler.
What makes you laugh no matter what?
Memes of animals doing funny things.
Name your favorite female artist.
I’m a Libra so I can never pick JUST one, but at the moment I’m loving Jenny Holzer.
What is your creative process?
I’m constantly writing things down and taking pictures or ripping things from magazines. I like juxtaposing things that you wouldn’t typically associate with one another and composing my work so that it poses a question instead of an answer or commentary. My brain is kind of like a faucet that is always turned on. Sometimes it’s just a little drip and other times the sink is overflowing. You have to go with the flow, literally.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Anything visual or verbal. Music, movies, books, advertising, overheard conversations, walking down the street, etc. Inspiration is everywhere!
What makes you excited about the future?
It is such an exciting time to be a woman in the visual arts because it’s one of the last creative industries where so few women have been recognized. I see this as a great opportunity instead of obstacle to make work and encourage other women to pursue creative outlets.