BY ADINAWA ADJAGBODJOU
It’s so great to be speaking with you, Kristin. I would love for you to introduce yourself to OUR AUDIENCE!
So, my name is Kristin Simmons. I’m a practicing visual artist, specializing in painting, printmaking, and mixed media. And my work surrounds itself with this question of appetites and this pleasure/pain paradox that we live in, in this modern society of ‘when is enough ever enough’ and learning what it means to exist as a millennial female consumer in this day and age.
That’s amazing! what do you feel are some of the big reckonings you faced in your time?
I think day-to-day, I always say I’m constantly growing and learning every day. I do think one of the biggest reckonings recently, at least in the 8 years I’ve been doing this professionally is that you’ve got to trust your gut and do what feels right to you. And if you live by someone else’s credo or standards, it’s not going to work. So as long as you do what’s best for you and put your best foot forward, that has to be enough for you. And we receive so many different messages and the same goes for life outside of your profession because everyone’s doing such different things and we’re all constantly seeing what everyone else is doing in their lives, through social media and other platforms.
So your work touches on consumerism and consumption a bit and I’m wondering what led you to focus on that in your work?
Yeah, so I didn’t go to college with the intention of becoming an artist or studying art in a serious academic way. I went to a liberal arts school, never thinking that I would be an artist full-time. And I did study art and art history when I was in school but I thought I wanted to go into the business world afterward. So thinking that advertising would be a good intersection of business and creativity. So after I graduated, I worked in advertising for five or six years on a variety of different sized accounts, at different agencies, and in a few different roles.
And I was always making art in my free time because my day job didn’t really fulfill this desire to make certain things. But just seeing the inner workings of businesses, whether it’s a soup company, an electric bulb company, or a highly-rated hotel company, seeing these similar approaches towards how we engage with the consumer and create this desire made me want to focus on that in my work. So I think that’s why I really love pop and branding because it goes so well with the theme of figuring out when we are the consumer vs. the consumed.
Yeah and I think oftentimes —and I’m sure you hear this all the time— art imitates life or life imitates art. How do you see those themes reflected in our real life?
I think a lot of my work is about reflecting literally and figuratively about what that means in our lives. I’m not necessarily villainizing consumerism. I mean, I like nice things just as much as the next person. But I think for me, making art is a way for me to question some of those things I’m interested in like when is enough really enough and when does something go from satiation to excess? So for me, it’s really about looking at everything that can be done or overdone whether it’s medicine, money, drugs, travel, etc. By looking at those things closer, I’m able to analyze them and think when is this a tool that is being used for our advantage and when does it become a weapon against us.
Wow, that’s powerful. Do you feel like there are ways that your own identity presents itself in your work?
Definitely. I think it’s, for me at least, hard not to separate that. I think some artists maybe do but for me, it’s cathartic, it’s a form of therapy. It’s me dealing with things that I’m thinking about, struggling with, or am attracted to, enticed by, or curious about. So I’m a pretty open book for the most part because I think in this day and age if you have any social media presence it’s very hard to separate your personal life. But for me, my personal life is my professional life, which is both a blessing and a curse as an artist. I take it more as a blessing, obviously.
Who are the people who influenced you or just empowered you?
You know, so many people at a basic level have been influential in my journey. My mom has been a huge inspiration for me. She worked when I was younger and has really helped me figure out how to grow my business and has been a huge support system for me. At first, she was a little unsure about me doing this full-time, and then she embraced it and has since become my biggest advocate. I admire a lot of my close friends, especially the women, whether they’re doctors, working on wall street, or creating curriculum for the next generation. I also, of course, look up to famous women like Melinda Gates and Michelle Obama who are doing amazing things on a grander scale. But I think the people who influenced me more are, obviously, the people I get to speak to on a daily basis.
Thank you for sharing that. I would love to know, Overall, what have been some of the really tough times that you’ve had to face?
There are always tough times, no matter what you do. I think for me, it was actually the toughest before I decided to jump into this full-time when I was still working in advertising and in that limbo phase. And I think it was really tough after school because I was very unhappy working in the corporate world full-time and a lot of other people seemed very happy that they were out of school, working full-time, starting their careers, and making money. I just had a big identity crisis at that time because I thought do I just not want it at all? I’ve always liked working and had things that I was passionate about but at the time, that wasn’t fulfilling me. So I was thinking, wow do I just not want to work? It just didn’t sound like me. I was questioning why everyone was so happy working and fulfilling their dreams all the while, I didn’t feel the same things.
And then when I started practicing art in my free time, even if it was after 12 hours of sitting at my desk, I began to feel lighter and like I had a purpose again. And I think, jumping to do that full time when it’s such a hard field to maintain a steady living in was a tough decision. But ultimately, the joy of doing it was far greater than the fear of not doing it.
Earlier you mentioned that support for artists is kind of lopsided. Could you explain that a little further?
Yeah, sure. I mean if you go out in the streets of New York City, there are people selling art on the street for $30 and there’s a gallery and they’re selling it for $3 million. Well, where’s the art that’s $300? The middle-class of artwork, I want to say. It’s very hard to find because we live in a world where people either want things instantly and for very little money or mega-rich people want things that are collectors value and going to enhance their status, net worth, and so forth.
So I think it’s hard to find organizations or places that kind of support more middle-market and emerging artists. We’re definitely seeing some more, but I would like to see more of that now because I think there are plenty of people who would spend more than $30 on a piece of art. They don’t want to spend $30,000 but they’re not going to buy art to hang in their home from the person on the street. Nor are they necessarily going to feel comfortable going to a gallery and being treated a certain way if those people aren’t receptive. So I think we’re seeing more online platforms that have middle-market art. I’d love to see more retail and physical spaces, but that’s hard in this day and age, even pre-pandemic, just because of how everything has gone online and how art fairs are tending to dominate and take over a lot of the gallery spaces. So it’d be great just to see more variety there.