David Lagares:Today I am having a conversation with Ryan Paul Simmons, world-renowned artist, in regard to his current exhibition at ALAN IstanbulGallery. I would like to ask you some questions about your selections for this show. It seems to everyone who has seen the show, that Ataturk is the main focusof the show. What inspired you to paint Atatürk?
Ryan Paul Simmons:I felt that, Ataturk, during his time, was a very powerful man, a man before his time, who was not afraid to speak his words that were important to the people that they could relate to, and in that sense, he was a very well – rounded, colorful and bright man. So I made him colorful
D.L:I saw the piece and it is a marvelous piece, but I noticed that you covered his mouth, why?
R.P.S:Because I believe, with all respect, and I was hoping that the people of Turkey would get this message, that there are still hangingflags of Ataturk… He is no longer with us. He cannot speak anymore and now it is your turn.
D.L:There is a piece, which happens to be one of my favorite pieces of your collection, which is called “Up in Smoke”. What inspired you to create this piece?
R.P.S:Well, “Up in Smoke”… The hookah seems to be the norm here. It is no different than having tea. So, I felt that, during the show in Istanbul about Istanbul, it is a must.
D.L:I’d like to ask you a question about a piece that has become very, very popular, because it means a lot to this country. It is called “Living On APrayer”. What inspired you for this piece?
R.P.S:“Living On APrayer”… I have been painting for many years but I don’t or haven’t considered myself an artist in my head. Other people have, which I think is very important because it allowed me to stay humble. And I want to, for myself, earn my place to call myself an artist. It is not just a label.
D.L:But you have, in fact, been an artist for a long time. But, you didn’t see yourself as an artist.
R.P.S:I’ve been painting for many years…But, No, I have never considered myself an artist.
D.L:When did you first discover that you are an artist?
R.P.S:This was October 8th, 2013, 05.03 AM, New York City.
D.L:What happened at that moment?
R.P.S:It normally takes me, say a month, four weeks, 5 weeks, to do a piece. But, I allowed myself 5 weeks to do the entire 12 pieces. I mainly work best under pressure.
D.L:But how did you manage that? It is nearly impossible.
R.P.S:I have waited years to do a gallery show. When the opportunity presented itself with Alan Istanbul Gallery, at that moment it felt right and then I had earned it. At that moment, I broke down, and I said I can’t do this. And I turned off all the lights, and as I was getting ready to close my studio door, I turned the lights back on and I had two brushes in each hand…
D.L:That’s terrific. So, “Living On APrayer”?
R.P.S:It is the basis of the entire show.
D.L:That’s terrific. Let’s talk about another piece, which seems to have a very significant value to this show. There is a piece and it is in collection that is very important, and it seems to be very important to you. It’s called “Respect”. What can you tell me about the piece?
R.P.S:That would take me back to childhood. Growing up, raised with the religion I was told to believe in. Respect wasn’t always present. People tried to follow it, but a lot strayed from it.
D.L:How old were you when you noticed this?
D.L:And you noticed this they don’t know it?
R.P.S:Yes I did. Things that interested me at this age, which is why I said that I was an outcast, other children at my age, were interested in other things and I was, I tried to play with them and my interest was somewhere else.
D.L:So bringing it back to the church, you were noticing a lack of respect. Can you expand on that?
R.P.S:For example, when you walk into the church, you’re supposed to take the holy water, and place it on your skin. Some did, some didn’t.
D.L:Did you find that interesting?
R.P.S:I was confused.
D.L:Because some did and some didn’t?
R.P.S:Yes. I was very confused but then I was very clear. After you’re inside of this building, this church, this place of worship, many times, there is a lot of money being exchanged. So it was more like people were allowed to sin and it was ok to come to this…and put money in the basket and everything goes away, they go back to their normal life and they can sin again.
D.L:So how does that relate to your painting of “Respect”?”
R.P.S:In Istanbul, when one is entering their place of worship…a mosque, I learned a lot. I learned respect.
D.L:Tell me about it.
R.P.S:I stood in front of a mosque for three hours and I watched. And when every person walked up to that mosque, there is a ritual. There was something that they had to do before they could even get close to the door. The cleansing. They sit down, remove their shoes, they wash their face, they wash their hands, they wash their arms, they wash their feet, they wash their legs, then they go to the front. They remove their shoes and you leave whatever you have behind you and then you go pay your respect and to stay focused. The difference between America and Turkey is: this is a way of life for them. In the streets of Istanbul you can hear the prayers, they happen five times a day…
D.L:It sounds to me as if, you have been transformed by this.
R.P.S:I have. So respect is always present, so it needs to be a part of the show.
D.L:And having just arrived here, been here for few days, I have already started to get that feeling. And there is a great level of respect. Talking of respect, you have a piece that may seem very controversial here, called “Never Give Up”. Can you tell me a bit about that piece?
R.P.S:This piece was not originally part of the show. But within those five weeks I was painting it became a very important piece for me. Again, Ataturk was not afraid to speak. To speak doesn’t always require words. There are a lot of people in this world that should be allowed to love whoever they want to love. Some believe it is not the way, but these are opinions. So, my painting of “the stairs”, which took place in Istanbul and created a mass spread for media, was an outlet of speaking. This is whom I choose to love, this is the way I live, I don’t tell you how to live.
D.L:That’s amazing. There is one painting which I find extraordinary because it is so simple yet carries such a big message. It is called, “This Way”.
R.P.S:In society, again speaking for myself, there are so many signs that tell you no parking here, can’t walk here, one way…Why?
R.P.S:Why? Why? So you maybe told you have to go to college, you have to do this, you have to bring home the money to put bread on the table. Why? Why do I have to do that, these steps in order to become successful? Why don’t I just do it my way? So, I created the piece, “This Way”, because it needed to be created that way. Because dreams are all around us, there are no arrows that say your dreams are over there go get them. There are windows of opportunity in every conversation you have with somebody. I could be an old man who may enlighten you by one word, one look, one spark, etc. And you’ll know which way your dream is.
D.L:I happen to agree with you on that. There is a piece that yet again I find controversial but enlightening at the same time. “Unveil”.
R.P.S:“Unveil”. Let me start off this way. By creating this show I wanted to push myself more. You’re going to call yourself an artist? Ok. Let’s see what you’ve got. There was the challenge.
D.L:We see a woman who is covered up. But yet you’re giving us a chance to see her.
R.P.S:The issue with this piece which is why it is a part of the show is I feel people judge people by what they see. There is an old saying, I am not sure if it translates into Turkish, but in America, “never judge a book by its cover”.
D.L:So in other words everyone will have their own opinion of what lies behind…
R.P.S:I would hope so…I’m not the one to tell somebody what they should feel. If it moves them in a good or bad way, that’s the message.
D.L:Thank you. “HiStory”… What is all about?
R.P.S:It’s a double entendre. It is either history or his story.It is one postcard. But you are seeing two postcards because it is defined in the back. I want to welcome people to Istanbul that are not interested.Because, they are missing something special.Every experience that they have ever had its origins here. It is the only place in the world that seats on two continents. East meets west.
D.L:The flowers, what do the flowers mean?It seems that someone is holding a weapon.
R.P.S:Well you have to shoot the flowers somehow.The flowers are maybe a government authority welcoming people to Istanbul. It is supposed be my version of a tear gas launcher. I prefer not to use a gun. It shouldn’t be just used for tear gas.And I didn’t send the postcard, Ataturk did.
D.L:So it’s about belief… I want to switch you to “Resilience”. It is somehow related to history and it is a very current theme here. Tell me about it.
R.P.S:Istanbul is very old. The Turkish are very proud. There is art everywhere. Graffiti is amazing. There is graffiti that on buildings or were on buildings that have been knocked down and nobody will ever see again, but I got to see a lot of them before they were demolished.
D.L:I saw some graffiti today and they were beautiful expressions.
R.P.S:Yes.There is barbed wire in the front so I wanted to create a perception but also a message. The people of Istanbul protect Istanbul, they welcome everyone but they still protect. There is pride there. The yellow barbed wire is there, not only to balance the colors for me, but they are not harsh barbed wires. They can’t hurt you; they are implied…
D.L:That is a very interesting analogy. Now I must ask you about a fun piece, in my opinion, “Bring It Home.” What is the message in this piece?
R.P.S:“Bring It Home”… It is something in America, as you understand, that if you want something bad enough you go out and get it. You follow your dream whatever way it points and you go get it;then you bring it home.
D.L:I think that’s a great answer. How do you feel about overall about the show?
R.P.S:I can’t believe it. I cannot believe that I pushed myself and gave myself five weeks to paint. And I did it. What can’t I do?
D.L:That’s probably true, but it seems to me from our conversation that you have no limits.
R.P.S:I don’t think I do.
D.L:Because you covered so many topics in this collection, topics people wouldn’t even try to broach. You have dealt with them head on; that shows courage. Would you becoming back to Istanbul?
D.L:Sounds great. It’s a beautiful collection. I thank you so much for your time.