Rachel studied printmaking and painting at Rollins under Bosnian artist Tanja Softic. After graduating, she left for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she completed an MFA under the guidance of painters Michael Crespo and Edward Pramuk at Louisiana State University.
In 2000, Rachel returned to her alma mater Rollins College as an assistant professor. At Rollins, she has been actively involved in connecting the studio arts curriculum to the local community through specialized service-learning courses and collaborative art projects.
In the last few years, Rachel’s work has been exhibited in Florida at the Orlando Museum of Art, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum in Winter Park, and the Arts Center in St. Petersburg, in New York at the Ceres Gallery as well as abroad in Piacenza, Italy at the Pulcheria Arte exhibition of international women artists and at the 2005 Florence Biennale.
Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?
A. "I discovered early on in school that I loved to write creatively and draw, but it was really in high school that I saw the possibility of making art a central part of my life. Not surprisingly, writing/text has continued to play a major role in my work."
Q. How has society influenced your art? Are there any social implications in your art?
A. "Growing up, my mom was a social worker and public school teacher and my father worked on advanced degrees in political science while he taught public school and college, so social issues and politics were a regular part of our family discussions.
It was only after grad school, however, that I felt empowered enough as an individual to start addressing these things through my art. Particularly since 9/11 and the birth of my daughter, social, political and environmental issues have really become a strong focus of my work."
Q. On average, how long does it take you to create a piece?
A. "It depends on the complexity of the image and the amount of uninterrupted time I have when I am working on it. I often work on a series or installation of works, and so it is rare for me to have only one piece going at a time. Residencies are really great for me because I am the most productive when I have a few weeks at a time to focus on making art."
Q. Can you share some of your philosophy about art and artistic creation?
A. "I feel very strongly that artists have a duty to be good local and global citizens by using their art to communicate positively with as many people as they can reach. My ultimate hope is that my art might have the power to create paradigm shifts for my viewers and promote positive change in the world; of course, at the same time, it fulfills my most basic need to create beauty and express my personal anxieties and desires."
Q. Has your art ever been published?
A. "In local magazines and newspapers, websites and in the catalogue for the 2005 Florence Biennale."
Q. What was your most important exhibition? Care to share that experience?
A. "I always believe my most important exhibition is right around the corner, of course. In fact, it is not always the prestige of the venue that makes an exhibition a watershed moment for me; many times it is more about the interactions I have with people at the reception, or sometimes it is about the particular installation of the work in an unusual space that makes me turn a corner and move forward with an idea."
Q. Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?
A. "I listen to music ALWAYS-- it is a must when I’m working. It helps me ignite the creative part of my brain and helps me filter out distractions. And, of course, dancing can help you work through a particularly tough artist’s block."
Q. Discuss your art. What are you thinking when you create it?
A. "The digital mixed media pieces I am working on now, tentatively titled the "Anoxia" series, begin with a digital print that I layer with acrylic paint and drawing materials. Sometimes I punch patterns into the paper, sewing through the holes with yarn and heavy thread in order to lend the otherwise alien aesthetic of the underwater subject matter a "domestic" element. Incorporated into some pieces are patterns from wallpaper or fabrics.
Most of these images have text relating to or taken from novels, sailors’ journals, scientific papers and other observations about our romanticized relationship with the ocean. "Dearest" and "My Love" can be read as love letters from a sailor to a spouse using Herman Melville’s gruesome descriptions of whale hunting from "Moby Dick." A potent mixture of fear and wonder is revealed as this character interacts with the seas largest creatures.
The smaller pieces such as "I am not feeling well" and "Don’t leave me" suggest another type of communication from the sea, begging for us to acknowledge the negative effects our collective human impact. Many of the pieces function conceptually as voices for marine creatures or habitats which do not themselves have the power to tell us what we are doing wrong."
Q. Do you have a degree or do you plan to attend school for art? If so, how did it help you as an artist? What can you tell us about the art department that you attended?
A. "I have an M.F.A. from Louisiana State University (www.lsu.edu/) and I teach currently art full-time at Rollins College (www.rollins.edu/), a great liberal arts school in Central Florida. Now that I think about it, I have actually never been away from college life since I started school in 1993, so I guess I must like things that way.
Q.Where can we see more of your art?
A. " www.rachelsimmons.net "
Q. Do you have any upcoming exhibits?
A. "Currently, my work is on display at the L.A. Design Center (www.ladesigncenter.com/) in a group show called "Stream" with fellow Vermont Studio Center residents and science enthusiasts Rachel Sussman (www.rachelsussman.com ) and Diana Folsom (www.dianafolsom.com ).
After that, I will literally "take my show on the road" and put up a version of it at the William Blizard Gallery at Springfield College (www.spfldcol.edu) in Springfield, Mass., in March 2008."
Q. Any tips for emerging artists?
A. "Go to school for art, but don’t complete your education just at an art college. Keep going to school until you get enough critical information to be able to create art that contributes to the positive things you would like to see happen in your world. And don’t give up. No matter what."
Q. In one sentence... why do you create art?