There are certain words in the english language that have a clearly identifiable definition and form. For instance, if you were asked to draw a chair, regardless of your artistic abilities, there is a high probability that the image rendered would be of a piece of furniture used for sitting, most likely with four legs and back support. Other words, which either have more complex definitions or are open to broader interpretations, would result in a wide range of different images. Cool is one such word.
What does it mean to be cool? The word itself is abstract in nature and how it is defined is subjective to a person's perception and lived experiences. As a personal attribute, coolness is an amalgamation of how one looks, how one thinks, and how one behaves. When we think of coolness embodied, we often think of individuals who maintain their poise and composure, even when faced with overwhelming circumstances that are outside of their control. All of this combined leads me to conclude one thing, Princess Simpson Rashid is cool.
My introduction to Rashid occurred shortly after I began working at the Cultural Council. In August 2016, Rashid was one of several visual artists who participated in a story telling event, facilitated by Barbara Colaciello, at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. The event was in connection to "Lift: Contemporary Expressions of the African American Experience." Rashid, clad in a leather jacket in the style of James Dean, Marlin Brando, or Arthur Fonzarelli, was joined on stage by fellow artists Thony Aiuppy, Ingrid Damiani, and Roosevelt Watson, all of whom took turns telling personal stories - stories that touched on exposure to the arts at an early age, how they embarked on their careers in the arts, and triumphs and tragedies they have experienced along the way. Rashid, an abstract painter and printmaker, spoke with a cadence that gave the illusion that her rhythm is set by an internal, well tuned metronome.
Rashid's undergraduate degree, which she earned from Georgia State University, is not in art, but is instead in science - physics to be specific. In 2010, Rashid received an Art Ventures grant from The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, which allowed her to produce and release an exhibition book titled "Elemental Atmospheres: Paintings Inspired by Science, Math & Perception." Through this project, Rashid explored the relationship between abstract art and math, color and music, and composition and perception. Some of the work included in the book was from a series previously exhibited at the Museum of Science and History. Rashid made complex concepts accessible and intriguing by weaving directly into her work principles that if in a textbook formate would cause many to adopt a glazed over look in their eyes.
During the story telling event, Rashid shared other truths about herself, including the fact that she is a cancer survivor and a competitive sport-fencer and coach. What I came to realize about Rashid is that she is the type of artist that takes her audience with her as she journeys through life. This is illustrated through her series of sport-fencing paintings and her 2015 book "A War on Cancer: An Artist Sketchbook." These intimate glimpses into Rashid's life are what allows an audience to truly feel connected to her work, as well as the artist herself. How Rashid unabashedly discloses her interests, no matter how specialized they are, and her adversities are what reinforce the fact that she possess a heightened level of coolness.
Rashid is at a point in her career where she is implementing intentional constraints. She is exploring what it means when we say "less is more." Rashid's latest work can be seen in the exhibits "Survive to Thrive," a group show which is on display in the Jax Makerspace Gallery inside the Jacksonville Public Library Main Branch from August 2 through October 22, 2017, and "Life Under Construction," a duo show between Rashid and Keith Doles at CoRK Arts District East Gallery from September 2 through September 29, 2017.
10 Questions with Princess Simpson Rashid
Do you have any patterns, routines, or habits when starting a new project?
When starting a new project, I do a lot of research. I watch videos and read articles and books about the topic and/or technique I am trying to explore. I find that listening to podcasts and watching video interviews help to keep me motivated. They stir up new ideas and techniques for me to try and incorporate in my own work.
What have you learned about yourself through your artistic endeavors?
One of the main things I have learned is that I am a fighter and that helps me to complete my work. Rarely do I give up on a piece that is not working. Instead I will cut it up and make it smaller or collage it into another piece. I will keep pushing the material until I get what I am after with the piece in terms of composition, surface quality, and overall feel. I don’t like to throw things away so repurposing is becoming more of a staple practice in my studio.
How do you define success in what you do?
There are levels to it, of course. I don’t yet feel that I have reached a successful state in my field as an artist but I am making progress. I feel like I am on track when I complete a body of work and then market it well. My ultimate goal is for my work to be in museum collections globally and to have a strong international collectors’ base.
You've drastically reduced your color palette in your recent series. How do you feel an artist can benefit from setting constraints in regards to either the materials they use or the process by which they use them?
I think it allows the artist freedom to push more and focus on the elements that are really important. By limiting my palette, I don’t have to worry about choosing the right color. Instead, I can focus on how the few colors I am using are relating to each other. Less is always more.
How we perceive things affects our thinking and thus our behavior. Even though we function successfully in the physical world we don’t see it according to measured reality. The context that surrounds objects and symbols affects how we see them and what we perceive to be true about them. When I am creating a piece, often the things I take away are more important than the things I add. By simplifying the work I usually strengthen it. This is the perspective that led me to distill my palette to only a few colors.
What strategies do you implement to engage your audience? Additionally, what have you found to be effective when working to expand your audience and appeal to a broader market of collectors?
I try to give artist talks whenever I exhibit in order to give the audience greater insight into my practice and artistic philosophy. I tend to work in series so that I can really flesh out an idea. Within a series, I try to have a range of sizes so that I can offer work at different price points. I have found that my smaller canvases and works on paper are attractive to audiences new to collecting but who are also interested in original art at very affordable prices.
I have found social media to be a very effective modern marketing tool. So far, Instagram is my favorite for networking and expanding my audience. It seems easier to make connections with people there than on other platforms like Facebook or Twitter.
Did you face any challenges, creative or otherwise, when developing work for two consecutive shows with such close opening dates? Additionally, how do you not lose focus or momentum when you leave your studio for the evening and then return to resume work the following day?
Actually, I am preparing for four shows. In addition to “Survive to Thrive” and “Life Under Construction”, I am in a group show entitled “Small Matters” at The Yellow House, a new Jacksonville art space run and curated by Hope McNath. I am also in another group show in Seattle at Phylogeny Contemporary entitled “Suprematism, Constructivism, Futurism-Friction. Destruction. Invention. Vision”.
You know Murphy’s Law-“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. Everything seemed to go wrong at the same time. You may have heard that my studio building at Cork Arts District was temporarily shut down. So for the last few weeks I have not been able to work in my studio space. Luckily, a fellow printmaker and new Cork District resident, allowed me to use her space to get some work done. The art community really pulled together to help. That has been very humbling and encouraging.
I also have some health challenges since I am still recovering from a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment from back in 2014. I finished chemotherapy last year but have some lasting side effects like neuropathy, depression, and fatigue - all of which are terrible for morale. But, I keep pushing and try and take one day at a time.
At the end of a work session, I take a picture of the work. I study it before I go to bed and again when I start my day the following morning. It is my lifeline back to the work. Usually, seeing the work in progress energizes me to get back into the studio. Also, by studying the image on my phone, I see it from a different perspective and I try to solve any of the problems with it so that when I go back to the studio I can immediately attack it.
What qualities do you look for, or things do you consider, when contemplating whether or not to collaborate with or show alongside a fellow artist?
I look for professionalism. I look for someone who will complement me and that I can complement. Everyone brings something to the table and we each pull our own weight. I am a fairly independent person and I like working with others who can work independently yet support the overall team effort. Working with Keith Doles recently on the “Life Under Construction” show has been great because he brings so many skills to the table in terms of marketing and making art. Despite the recent challenges with both our studios and event location possibly being affected, I am confident we will still put on a very good show. We are both professionals.
How do you see the relationship between color, perception, and symbolism and what are some of your strategies and processes for illustrating this relationship?
In my art making process, I usually start by intuitively making marks and placing colors or text next to each other. Using various materials, I allow much of the work to construct itself. Over time, I develop the paintings and prints by going back in and manipulating the materials and elements to achieve greater clarity and simplicity. I call this a process of “controlled spontaneity”.
Each one of my artworks is a story. The characters are shapes like circles and squares and elements like lines, text, and numbers. They are the symbols I use because of their accessibility to everyone. We are dealing with these symbols from the time we are small children. So I use them to tell a narrative about energy and movement.
In an Instagram post, you recently said "I love when I become mesmerized by the process and the work starts to come together." Where do you currently see the greatest potential for experimentation and do you have any artistic vision that you have not yet been able to actualize – or an idea of where you'd like to explore beyond your work's current form?
I plan to start incorporating the figure into my work. I am developing a new series that explores issues of family, womanhood, feminism, faith, motherhood, roots, and community. I hope to synthesize painting and printmaking into strong mixed media works. Some of the new materials I will be working with will be vellum, thread, photography, and tar.
What would you like to see in Jacksonville as an effort to support and grow the city's creative economy?
I would like to see more institutional, private, and business sector support in the form of patronage for local artists that would allow them to achieve regional and national recognition.