Near Sossusvlei, Namibia in 2014

BIO

Rachel Simmons is an artist-educator who teaches foundations, printmaking and book arts at Rollins College, an innovative liberal arts institution founded in 1885 in Winter Park, Florida. Rachel began teaching at Rollins in 2000 after earning her MFA in Painting & Drawing from Louisiana State University. Her diverse practice is informed by the tensions surrounding globalization, ecotourism, activism, climate change & sustainability. In Rachel’s socially engaged art projects, she asks community participants to think critically and creatively about our relationship with nature.

Endlessly curious about the natural world and our relationship with it, Rachel often collaborates with scholars from other academic disciplines and members of her community to create new work. Current collaborative projects include the environmental graphic narrative Future Bear with historian Julian Chambliss, and The Aesthetics of Scale (Iceland), with geographer Lee Lines.  She has traveled to Antarctica, Iceland, Namibia, the Galapagos Islands and many of the US National Parks to research environmental issues pertaining to these projects. 

Rachel's work is included in the Lawrence University Special Book Collection, The Jacqueline Bradley and Clarence Otis, Jr. Collection, the Art Collection of Valencia College, The Bush Science Center at Rollins College and several other private collections. Her work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally at venues such as The American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Washington, D.C. and at the Gullkistan Residency for Creative People, in Laugarvatn, Iceland. Rachel’s current body of work, The Language of Watching, explores the particularities of our human relationship with birds as a symbol of nature and invites participants to become collaborators through an ever-expanding collection of prints called FLOCK. 

View Rachel's 2010 Tedx Orlando Talk 

Contact Rachel at rsimmons@rollins.edu.


ABOUT MY WORK

Throughout my career as an artist-educator, I have communicated my boundless curiosity about the natural world. My diverse printmaking-based practice originates from my interdisciplinary undergraduate education at Rollins in which I was encouraged to consider complex issues from a multitude of perspectives. Twenty years later, I am still drawn to a wide variety of research interests beyond visual art, especially those which seek to decode the complexities between the evolution of culture and the environment.

 Lemaire Channel, Antarctica Peninsula, 2008 photo by Rachel Simmons

Lemaire Channel, Antarctica Peninsula, 2008 photo by Rachel Simmons

Traveling has broadened my perspective as an artist and a global citizen; I have developed bodies of work around my travels, always using these opportunities to reflect on our complex relationship with nature. In 2006, I began thinking more and more about the declining health of the oceans, witnessed first-hand on trips to the Pacific islands of Galápagos and Hawaii; and in response I made a body of work titled Wonders of the Sea. Later, after two consecutive voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula, I shifted my focus towards studying the effects of ecotourism, climate change and exploration on the polar landscape in Terra Nova. In The Language of Watching, my aim is once again to explore our relationship to nature, this time through the fascinating subculture of birdwatching. To work effectively in such a wide-ranging manner, with so many perspectives and disciplines in the mix, I often collaborate with colleagues in other fields who also see art as an exciting platform for interdisciplinary research and social change. Projects with physicist Thomas Moore, environmental scientist Lee Lines and historian Julian Chambliss and others, have challenged us to face our cultural assumptions about artists and scientists, and to create work that blurs the boundaries of our disciplines. 

 Print Action during Rachel's residency  and start of "Mass Migrations" at Constellation Studios, Lincoln, NE, summer 2015 photo by Karen Kunc

Print Action during Rachel's residency  and start of "Mass Migrations" at Constellation Studios, Lincoln, NE, summer 2015 photo by Karen Kunc

There is another essential ingredient in my work––community. To engage viewers as active participants, I have been practicing socially engaged art since I began teaching in 2000. Printmakers are by nature collaborative people anyway. We share communal work spaces and equipment; we have always been at the heart of spreading thoughts and ideas to the general public. As a contemporary artist, I use printmaking to communicate, build community and inspire social change. Almost every project I start has a social component, whether I am working directly with community members to make a flock of bird prints or whether I am teaching my students how to design SEA projects themselves. 

 Bird Song Broadsides and various artist's books installed at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, April 2018, photo by Rachel Simmons

Bird Song Broadsides and various artist's books installed at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, April 2018, photo by Rachel Simmons

Aside from their inherent connections to community-building, printmaking and book arts are central to my practice because I am drawn to the complex relationship between text and image. Through letterpress, I can feel the individual weight of metal  and wooden letters and more carefully contemplate the expressive potential of typography. I chose the color & translucency of the ink, the typefaces and texture of the paper to create an overall concept for each sound-based text-image. 

I have always been a writer——keeping daily journals, travel journals and altering books since I was young. Working with letterpress allows me to feel text as a physical material; choosing each metal or wooden letter with my hands slows my thinking, allowing time to carefully consider words as physical objects. I integrate text into almost everything I make, from the Future Bear comic to erasure poems to altered books and visual journals. It is absolutely at the heart of my practice—as essential to my ability to express myself as my relationships with my collaborators and my students. 

-Rachel Simmons, 2018

 "Counting my sorts" in the letterpress studio at Penland's Winter Residency, 2018, photo by Rachel Simmons

"Counting my sorts" in the letterpress studio at Penland's Winter Residency, 2018, photo by Rachel Simmons