February 1, 2005 > George Simmons
Local Artist With International Reach
by Venkat Raman
Versatility is the characteristic that stands out when you consider the artistic accomplishments of Bay Area artist George Simmons. "I love to create," he said, "whether it is painting, sculpture, toys, furniture or even poetry." Being able to enrich this world through his creations of different forms is the most satisfying feeling for him, he said.
Simmons was born in Oakland and lived there until his family moved to Sonora while he was still attending school. His artistic talents were evident even when he was a schoolboy and the teachers frequently tapped into his ability to draw and paint. He recalled that he was always able to look at objects or other paintings and reproduce them fairly easily. When he looks at a blank sheet of paper, he can visualize different components of a future picture right there, all in place - a rare trait indeed. From early childhood, he excelled at looking at a picture or painting and creating a copy.
Although he never really pursued formal art education, he did take art classes in school. He realized that he already knew the concepts being taught in those classes and basically learned art vocabulary to go with those concepts. Right after completing high school, he enlisted in the Navy and served for four years in the Pacific. Three of those years were in Hawaii. Luckily, he was "too late for the Korean War and too early for Vietnam." This peaceful service gave him the opportunity to hone his artistic skills while stationed there.
It was after his discharge from the Navy that he started painting in earnest. His serious foray into painting started with a copy of the famous Madonna that he did over three weeks. To this day he keeps this painting so close to his heart that it is the only work of his that is not for sale.
He held down a number of different jobs over the years, but art was the constant through it all. Early in his career, when he was working at a hospital, he got an opportunity to sit in an anatomy class designed for training licensed vocational nurses. The appreciation for human anatomy he gained was a great help in the production of more life-like drawings and paintings. Though he lacked a formal education in art, he studied books on Renaissance art. Initially Leonardo da Vinci was his favorite master, but he later expanded his interest to include other Renaissance artists such as Raphael and Vermeer.
In addition to drawing and painting, he is skilled in carving, sculpting, scrimshawing, fine woodworking and other forms of art. He works on a variety of media such as wood, metal, clay, rock and ivory. A couple of years ago, he held a one-man show in Hayward where he displayed his creations to viewers selling many of them in the process.
Simmons is also an accomplished poet. The poet in him began to come out while he was in the military service. He has published a book of his poems and continues to write and hopes to publish more books. A few of his poems are featured on www.poetry.com. He is also represented in anthologies of poems published in Europe and the U.S. he finds that poetry improves with age as vocabulary rises and leads to better expression.
For a long time, there had been three goals that he wanted to achieve: to have a one-man art show; to publish his poems in a book and to paint a mural. The latter, painting a mural, was realized in September 2004 when he received a commission. Ernie and Mia Van Beers of Sooke, British Columbia, Canada, through a chance meeting, became acquainted with Simmons and decided to have him create a mural for their home. The vivid mural is a reproduction of a painting by Peter Paul Rubens and kept him busy for a week.
Simmons attributes much of his success to his inspiration - wife Judy. An artist in her own right, she is happy to support her husband and supply him with ideas for pursuit. She was the inspiration behind publishing the poems. They met in 1979 when he moved back from the Mother Lode Country in Sonora to the Bay Area.
Although he is adept at copying the masters, he strives to keep his originality in his work. Even though he is an accomplished painter, things were not always easy for him. In his early days, he was unable to draw the hands and feet of people. So, his drawings would stop short of showing the feet and the hands would invariably be in pockets. Over time, he did learn to draw these parts and made his paintings well rounded. His advice to aspiring artists is that "No one is perfect. It is natural to have difficulties in your quest to become an artist. Don't avoid your problems. Persevere and keep practicing. That will help you overcome any of your troubles."
You can view his art at the Willits Center Art Gallery, 3755 Washington Blvd.
Fremont. His book of poems is titled "Talking Leaves" and the anthologies featuring his poetry are "Theatre of the Mind" and "Our World's Best Loved Poems:" If you are interested in viewing his art or purchasing his book, you can call him at (510) 783-4335 or send an email to GEPoet@aol.com.