If I say the name Rich Simmons most of you will think of some of our most iconic Croydon street art. Rich’s art is sometimes political, sometimes controversial, and always stunning – he has painted large-scale pop-art murals all over the centre of town and beyond, as well as exhibiting globally. Croydon has been Rich’s adoptive home for a decade now and he’s still making waves, from being commended for Cultural Impact at last year’s Croydon Business Excellence Awards to founding a movement called Art Is The Cure, where he hopes to inspire people to use creative therapy in brand new ways.
After launching his film last November to promote Art Is The Cure, we wanted to catch up with Rich again to find out more.
Croydonist: We first interviewed you about your art back in 2017 – how do you think your artistic practice has developed since then?
Rich: I have so many ideas I want to create, and that for a long time has been a blessing and a curse. For the last few years, I would spend so many hours designing and creating my stencils and paintings and developing a diverse range of styles and pieces. I guess having an overactive imagination can be good and bad because it allowed me to develop a lot of ideas, but also caused some confusion as my Superman kissing Batman painting was completely different in style and narrative to a skullerfly piece for example and this made people question if it was the same artist doing it or why they might be in the same exhibition.
With time comes maturity and wisdom and I’ve realised I need to be methodical in my story telling. I need to stick to one narrative in a collection at a time and that has been a challenge trying to reign my imagination and keep my focus more.
Croydonist: For those of our readers who haven’t heard about it yet, can you tell us a bit more about Art Is The Cure?
Rich: I launched Art Is The Cure before I had even become an artist. I struggled with depression, Aspergers which is a form of autism and social anxiety when I was younger and art was my natural release for these issues. I would get the pain out of my system by being creative and art became my cure, it saved my life.
I realised what I was doing was a form of art therapy which wasn’t getting the attention it needed and I decided to take a different approach to spreading awareness by launching my own organisation back in 2008. I wanted to inspire other young people about how to use creativity in a positive way to overcome different problems, so would run workshops, give talks in schools, organise music shows and sell t-shirts to fund it all.
It grew quickly and got a big following and then my art career took off and I had to find ways to continue to promote art therapy whilst juggling exhibitions and gallery commitments. In the last couple of years, I realised I needed to go back to my roots and rediscover my passion for inspiring people and we have created a film to relaunch it and tell the story of my journey with Art Is The Cure.
Croydonist: Where does your artistic practice end and Art Is The Cure begin?
Rich: My art career and my passion to inspire people go hand in hand, they run parallel with everything I do. I try and put narratives in my work that inspire people and as my art career grows, I get more opportunities to talk about art therapy in the media and platforms to talk about Art Is The Cure in schools.
Art Is The Cure is my story about using art to overcome problems in my life and channel that energy in a positive way. That’s still how I live my life and I think people can see me as an example of someone turning a passion into a cure and then into a career. I didn’t go to art school, I’m totally self taught and it is this passion, stubbornness to win my battles both personally and in my career that has got me to this point in my life now.
Croydonist: We know your artist studio is based in East Croydon – is Art Is The Cure run from the same space?
Rich: Art Is The Cure’s main goal is to release inspirational content to promote creative therapy, starting with the film we created over the last year. I am lucky enough to be invited to schools and groups all over the world to talk to students, run workshops and share my story. I am looking forward to seeing things grow locally more and get opportunities to run workshops and talks in schools closer to home in Croydon and would love to hear from anyone who would like to invite me in to talk about Art Is The Cure. I would love to launch a podcast and create more films and content about others who have inspirational stories to share who can inspire people globally.
Croydonist: Is Art Is The Cure set up to help people based in the Croydon area or does it extend further than that?
Rich: Art therapy can help people globally and with my art career allowing me to travel the world, I get to meet people and go to schools in places I never thought I would get to go. Now that Art Is The Cure has relaunched with the first film, I would love to cement my roots in Croydon which has become my home over the last decade and go to schools and colleges closer to home.
Croydonist: How can our readers get involved?
Rich: Art Is The Cure is essentially a free piece of advice. It’s using creativity in any form to overcome a problem someone is facing. It’s channelling that negative energy from someone’s system in a healthy way that results in a painting, poem, photograph, song or anything creative, instead of self harming, drug use or suicide. I want people to share this approach to friends and loved ones who are struggling. Teach them about creative therapy, open their mind to using art in some capacity and help change someone’s life. We have our new website www.artisthecure.org where people can watch the film to learn about our story and get inspired to join our community in spreading this positive message. We are also hoping to raise money to visit schools for free by selling T-shirts and art on our website. Unfortunately schools often don’t have the budget to run workshops or have guests come and talk, so we are using 100% of our profits to self fund these talks, workshops and creation of new films that will inspire more people.
Croydonist: What’s coming up for Art Is The Cure?
Rich: We are trying to talk to schools and councils to secure opportunities to give talks and run workshops. We are also trying to get ambassadors who can help us promote this movement to their fan bases and hopefully this will soon lead to the launch of a podcast and more media opportunities. As we grow and secure more opportunities and put on more events, we will list them and promote them on our website and social media platforms for people to get involved with.
Croydonist: What is your biggest achievement to date with Art Is The Cure?
Rich: I created Art Is The Cure in 2008 after going through the Prince’s Trust programme to help me learn business skills and in 2009 I won the Vinspired Award for ‘The Most Inspirational Young Volunteer’ in the UK. I also got to meet Prince Charles after being nominated as a young ambassador of the year for the Prince’s Trust and we got to speak about Art Is The Cure and he was very supportive of the work I was doing. I’ve since got to go on and promote this organisation around the world and now we have had a professional production company create the short film about my journey over the last year which I’m excited for people to watch. Hopefully this is just the start of more achievements and positivity moving forwards as we try and grow the movement in new ways.
Croydonist: What would you like Art Is The Cure to have achieved in five years time?
Rich: I would love for Art Is The Cure to grow from a one person operation, to having a team of artists, therapists and people who are passionate about creative therapy growing it. I want this to become something that not only offers people hope and inspiration, but also gives people opportunities to work and volunteer as a bigger team. We would love to see the film we just released be the start of many that are created to tell more people’s stories and complement them with podcasts, events and workshops all over the world.
As a Croydon resident, it would also be amazing to see if we can get Croydon’s most famous son Stormzy supporting it. He has been a huge advocate for mental health awareness and it would be a huge honour to one day meet him, present him with an Art Is The Cure T-shirt and work together showing Croydon’s different creative forces uniting to inspire hope and awareness. Stormzy, get in touch!
All photos courtesy of Rich Simmons.
Posted by Julia