Near Sossusvlei, Namibia in 2014
Rachel Simmons lives and works in Winter Park, Florida. She holds an MFA in Painting & Drawing from Louisiana State University. Since 2000 she has been actively involved in socially engaged art projects as an artist-educator at Rollins College. In 2009, she was awarded the Florida Campus Compact Service-Learning Faculty Award for the State of Florida. That same year, Rachel journeyed to Antarctica for the second time to make work about climate change and ecotourism. Most recently, she traveled across the desert landscapes of Namibia to research ecotourism in southwestern Africa. Endlessly curious about the natural world and our relationship with it, she often collaborates with scholars from other academic disciplines and members of her community to create print-based work. Current collaborative projects include Future Bear with Julian Chambliss and The Aesthetics of Scale with Lee Lines. She and Lines recently exhibited new work near Akureyri in Northern Iceland in May of 2017.
Contact Rachel at email@example.com.
Throughout my career as an artist-educator, I have searched for ways to communicate my boundless curiosity about the natural world. As with most intellectual pursuits, every time I learn something new, it only fuels my desire to know more. Trained as an interdisciplinary scholar in my undergraduate years, I have always seen visual art as the ideal vehicle to express the tensions between politics, culture and sustainability,
Traveling has broadened my perspective as an artist and a global citizen; I have developed bodies of work around my travels, always using these opportunities to reflect on our complex relationship with nature. In 2006, I began thinking more and more about the declining health of the oceans, witnessed first-hand on trips to the Pacific islands of Galápagos and Hawaii; and in response I made a body of work titled Wonders of the Sea. Later, after two consecutive voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula, I shifted my focus towards studying the effects of ecotourism, climate change and exploration on the polar landscape in Terra Nova. In a more recent project, titled Mass Migrations, my aim is once again to explore our relationship to nature, this time through the fascinating subculture of birdwatching. To work effectively in such a wide-ranging manner, with so many perspectives and disciplines in the mix, I often collaborate with colleagues in other fields who also see art as an exciting platform for interdisciplinary research and social change. Projects with physicist Thomas Moore, environmental scientist Lee Lines and historian Julian Chambliss and others, have challenged us to face our cultural assumptions about artists and scientists, and to create work that blurs the boundaries of our disciplines.
There is another essential ingredient in my work––community. To engage viewers as active participants, I have been practicing socially engaged art since I began teaching in 2000. Printmakers are by nature collaborative people anyway. We share communal work spaces and equipment; we have always been at the heart of spreading thoughts and ideas to the general public. As a contemporary artist, I use printmaking to communicate, build community and inspire social change. Almost every project I start has a social component, whether I am working directly with community members to make a flock of bird prints or whether I am teaching my students how to design SEA projects themselves.
Aside from their inherent connections to community-building, printmaking and book arts are important to my practice because I am drawn to the beautiful and complex relationship between text and image. I have always been a writer——keeping daily journals, travel journals and altering books since I was young. Working with letterpress allows me to feel text as a physical material; choosing each metal or wooden letter with my hands slows my thinking, allowing time to consider the visual and physical weight of the word I am spelling. I integrate text into almost everything I make, from the Future Bear comic to erasure poems to altered books and visual journals. It is absolutely at the heart of my practice—as essential to my ability to express myself as my relationships with my collaborators and my students.
-Rachel Simmons, 2016