Board Games and Political Play
It wasn’t until the end of her senior year at Columbia University that Kristin Simmons discovered the art of silk screening. Having already established her ‘pop style’ of painting and well on her way to earning a double major in Studio Art and Art History, the soon-to-be-graduate was ready for a fresh challenge. Simmons would go on to split her time between painting and printing – even if only on the side. Described as a crossroad between business and creativity, she settled for a position in advertising and continued to explore and study the two mediums.
Flash forward to present day.
On opposite ends of the craft spectrum, the painting and printing combo offers Simmons the opportunity to trade between two separate artistic processes: creative vs. technical. Depending on the day, she can select a fluid and flexible medium, one that allows her the freedom to make mistakes or opt for a rigid and precise plan of action, one that requires a steady hand and sharp mind.
No longer compromising her professional title, Simmons considers herself a political artist. Depicting hot button issues and dark undertones, her body of work comments on how and why things are the way they are (this generation, this country). Through text and imagery she deconstructs the human appetite for all the things that can’t be satisfied: money, power, status. Attracted to controversial themes that are dividing the cultural zeitgeist in America such as guns, political parties, capitalism, the higher education system and its current opiate and drug epidemic, Simmons speaks to all members of society and remains self-aware of the role she plays as an artist. “I think the decision to be an artist in this day and age is controversial in and of itself. You’re expected to create a certain kind of critique or interpretation of the world around you. One’s vision is inherently singular or personal, so not everyone will always understand why you made something or think it merits discussion or consideration as art,” says Simmons. For this reason, she takes responsibility for making the viewer curious.
Following the success of “Candy Land”, Simmons will continue the board game series this summer with takes on Operation, Monopoly and Life. A re-interpretation of the childhood staple, “Candy Land” is an adults-only version. Seen through a provocative lens of someone who prefers double shots to lollipops, the piece displays the issues that plague exposure to mass media and sugarcoats nothing. Life-like in size, theme and impact, she draws a comparison between playing the game and experimenting with drugs. Depending on the choices made and paths followed, both cases can end in a loss for the player. Simmons replaced beloved characters, treasures and sweets for ones riddled with abuse, violence, sexuality and exploitation. Toss the dice and roll a joint, jump ahead three to the X-Rated Sugar Valley and trade in Mr. Mint for Mr. Menthe, Lord Licorice for Lord Liquor and Queen Frostine for Blow Queen. In the artist’s own words: “Candy Land” examines the influence of packaging and advertising on the viewer, and explores how to and whether we can reconcile childhood innocence and capitalist corruption. Soon to add to the stack: Operation (twist: the idealized female body), Monopoly (twist: living in NYC as a Millennial) and Life (twist: then vs. now, a generational gap). And like the one that came before, the rest of the series will visually and nostalgically represent the same larger than life feeling of winning.
While still evolving her overarching message, Simmons recognizes a common thread that connects most of her work: the cyclical bind of past and present (specifically, the 80s-90s) and a reason for why Millennials are the way they are. A member of Generation Y, the artist shares, “I think what we are exposed to as children and our collective memories (both conscious and subconscious) dictate how we navigate the world as adults. My art practice began with my examining toys, magazines, comics and familiar objects from my youth and looking at how they translate into adult themes.” Looking ahead, she’s interested in “exploring and parodying the dark side of our cult personality – specifically materialism, narcissism, egotism, inattentiveness and impatience.”