Now Showing! Dunbar Art Gallery – The Work of Dr. Herbert Simmons, Jr.

BY YA’LISHA LASHAE’ GATEWOOD
GSU Media Bureau

Simmons with work from his "I'm Back" series in the Dunbar Art Gallery. Credit: GLENN LEWIS/GSU Media Bureau

Simmons with work from his “I’m Back” series in the Dunbar Art Gallery. Credit: GLENN LEWIS/GSU Media Bureau

Herbert Simmons Jr. loves creating colors of harmony on canvas. His art has been exhibited in art shows across the country, and it will be shared at Grambling State University this month and most of February.

“The Work of Dr. Herbert Simmons Jr. & Selections from the Simmons Collection of African American Art” is being shown in the Dunbar Art Gallery in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts’ Dunbar Hall. The exhibit includes some of Simmons’ work and collected pieces by prominent artist William Tolliver this week through February 23. Donna McGee, a GSU art professor, said Simmons volunteered to share his work after visiting a Black History Month art exhibit from the collection of Cheryl and Will Sutton, and she jumped at the opportunity. The gallery is open Monday-Thursday 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and from 8 a.m.-12 noon Fridays. There will be a public reception on Feb. 16, 4:30 p.m.-6 p.m.

Simmons, an educator at Grambling State for 21 years and a professor in the school’s criminal justice department, is the university faculty-senate president. He’s also a successful businessman and entrepreneur, but many may not have realized he’s an artist. However, art has been a part of Simmons’ life since his childhood.

During a recent interview, Simmons said he has been drawing and painting since his youth when some of his teachers saw something in him that he didn’t see in himself. They liked his skill, and they would ask him to draw and paint things for them. Through the years he became more aggressive with his art, falling in love with painting.

Simmons, who classifies himself as an abstract artist influenced by the work of 20th century Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, said he always starts the same way when he settles in to paint, something he finds relaxing. He starts with prayer and meditation.

“I ask God to use my skills, my hands and my mind to create something of beauty that pleases him and pleases mankind… I look at this as a gift from him,” he said. “I like to take colors and mix them ….to make something beautiful.”

Simmons’ art is appreciated by others, and they want the public to know what a talented artist is based on the GSU campus and in his hometown of Jonesboro.

“He keeps his colors pretty pure,” said McGee, an artist and collector. “He uses primary and secondary colors, and he leaves a lot of room for interpretation but there very good compositions and designs.”

Cheryl Sutton, who curated the exhibit, said in each of the last three years she has worked with McGee to bring some African American art and beauty to share with the public around Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and Black History Month to show the community that there is great visual beauty in this community. “When I had the opportunity to see his work I was inspired by the range of this work, both his natural talent and dedication,” she said.

Simmons, who has taught human ecology and consumer education, lived in Washington, D.C., for about 15 years, and that’s where he built some of his private art collection, including works by Tolliver, who Simmons got to know and interact with as an artist. He said he urged Tolliver to take a more abstract approach, and Tolliver became one of his favorite artists.

He traveled to Lafayette in 1982 to meet with Tolliver for the first time. At that time in Tolliver’s career, Simmons said, Tolliver was doing simple work, painting houses and doing anything to feed his family. They developed a personal and professional friendship, and Simmons started collecting Tolliver’s art to add to his growing collection.

Simmons is a businessman and a teacher, not a professional artist, though McGee and Sutton agree that his talent is at a professional level. Simmons feels good about that.

“Painting is a form of relaxation for me,” said Simmons, adding that it’s more of a “mind getaway.”

Dunbar Art Gallery - Simmons Art Show

Additional Information: Art Show Reception – Feb. 16, 4:30-6PM Dunbar Art Gallery

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