Shani Simpson

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I had the pleasure to meet Shani Simpson at the Cultural Arts Center in Lake Worth,  Florida.  It looks like an artistic community; and indeed it is.  I was reminded of Delray Beach, a place near and dear to my heart.  Boynton has yet to be glammed up.  My approach carried me past shade trees and quaint little houses constructed prior to the Second World War.

 Shani is employed at the cultural center, a white confection of purest deco, now serving as gallery and offices.  "I was born in Brooklyn, New York and moved here when I was seven. I consider myself a Floridian from my influences to my subject matter. I still have a little bit of New York in me, too..My family is from the West Indies, so there that mix of Caribbean culture, American culture and being in beautiful south Florida, too." She is the product of an artistic family, especially on her mother's side.  "They were involved in communications, visual arts and theater.  And then my dad, he is more of the logical end, working in mathematics and things like that so I have a little bit of right brain left brain thing going on."  

When asked about the genesis of the urge to create art, she said: "I think it's something that has always been with me, and I've been doing it since I was a kid.  I have a couple of other visual artists in my family.  It was just something I would naturally do.  My family and friends supported my talent and gave me gifts pertaining to that, and art was something I just really enjoyed doing."  Shani spent six years at the Dreyfoos school of Art in West Palm Beach.  This intensive course of instruction flung wide the gates of her imagination.  

She learned art history and "A little bit of everything".  At Dreyfoos we always had to study drawing, and there was a heavy emphasis on two-dimensional work, and that's what I love to do.  Working in 3-D was a little more difficult for me, especially when I was learning how to do it.  The kind of 3-D I do now focuses more on fashion, as opposed to traditional sculpture. When I was in school the 2-D disciplines really appealed to me.... Painting, mixed media, photography especially. I love photography and working it to this day.  I find as I have gotten older I am more of a multi-disciplinary artist.  There's so much creativity that I can't just express it like this, but by cooking, or writing.  It just depends on the day and how I wish to express myself."

Her "day gig" is at the Cultural Council of Palm Beach county as executive assistant and administrative support.  "I work with our president and CEO for fund raising and membership."  I inquired as to whether or not she had a mission statement for her art:  "To make them think and to make them feel, using line, form, and texture," she replied without missing a beat.  Her demeanor is pleasant; she is calm and articulate.  

I don't quite know what I was expecting, but there was none of the tortured, needy, neurotic typecast character that some people might imagine of someone who proclaims themselves to be an artist.  Her art is informed by suffering:  her mother's bout with colon cancer in 2013 served as a catalyst.  "That time was one of the most difficult that I have ever gone through personally, emotionally, financially and spiritually. It was hard to see my mother in so much pain. Caregiving presented challenges as well. It was difficult for me not to work. But through it all, our faith in God brought us great strength and our family bonds grew tighter in the face of such adversity.  Part of what kept me going through this difficult time was being able to create art. The photo series that I mentioned involving the light and shadows began during the time of my mother's chemotherapy. The camera that I have used to shoot the photo series was graciously loaned to me by one of the elders in my church who is also a photographer.”

  On advice to young artists, she explained that her mother was a teacher and that the value of education could not be overestimated. "With the artist I admired it was a great mixing of disciplines.  Da Vinci was a painter, an architect, an inventor. For young artists I would just say 'go for it' and don't stop.  And see the world." She cites Da Vinci and the Renaissance and gothic movements as prime movers in her path.  She is moved by the architecture of Frank Gehry, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Gaudi. "They're so singular you know who they are."

Shani is not without an entrepreneurial bent, Vera Wang and Jonathan Adler providing examples of artists who are clever with business and branding.  She now uses digital photography, though she knows her way around a dark room. Her paintings take on a life of their own, with the warm island colors coming through."It's a combination of deliberation and happenstance. I let the medium take me where I want to go. I often see the finished product in my mind, and when I go to put it on the canvas it can take a different turn, depending on how the colors are working another medium is working. My photography for the past two years has been focusing on shadow, light and reflection.... What I shoot does influence what I paint, although sometimes the two look different."

Happily, her mother responded to the treatment and was able to see her daughter's work at the current Biennial show.  "Seeing her through that difficult time has made me a more compassionate person and a more compassionate artist. The gift of creativity was medicine for my soul.  Being able to see my work on display now is such a blessing.  Adversity didn't kill my dream... It has just made me more appreciative, humble, and grateful of the opportunities that I have now to share my artistic gifts with the world." Shani's work is part of the Biennial show of the Cultural Council of Palm Beach, 601 Lake Avenue in Lake Worth. It runs through Aug. 29, 2015. Visit the website for details:

in the photo, Shani is standing beside her artwork entitled New Day.


Photo Credit: Jacek Gancarz


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