Up From Down Home: Talking with Local Artist Jevoid Simmons

September 2, 2021

“I’m working to be the me I’m meant to be at this time in life”.

That’s the retirement mantra Jevoid Simmons lives by as he fully devotes himself to making his art. Over the years Jevoid has exhibited his work locally at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center (April – October 2019), Evanston’s Noyes Cultural Art Center;  the Evanston Art Center, the Garrett Theological Seminary (Northwestern University,  and The Art Institute of Chicago and Creative Coworking Gallery.  Now he’s pushed Up From Down Home, a deeply personal story of family told alongside seventeen of his paintings. We caught up with Jevoid to ask him more about this important work.

Betsy Bird: I wonder if you could tell us a little about yourself. How did you become the artist you are today? How long have you lived in Evanston?

Jevoid Simmons: I’m a 40-year resident of Evanston, IL.As long as I can remember I’ve been an art maker. I’m not grounded in any specific artistic system. Art classes were a part of my educational experience from grade through junior high school. Of all the schooling received in those years, the art classes resonated with me; they fed my soul. I’m always amazed with the art produced by others, past and present and incorporate learnings from them where it makes sense. When painting I enjoy working in a primitive style. It’s not tied to the necessity of precision. This style has a certain warmth and innocence. I have an affinity for the work of Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson). Her work and that of similar artists capture a snapshot of life and tell a story.

BB: Your first book Up From Down Home, A Family’s Journey North is out now and contains seventeen of your paintings. Tell us a little bit about the origin of this story and these artworks. What’s the story behind the book?

JS: My recently published book, Up From Down Home, shares my family’s migration story out of rural Alabama in the early 1950s to escape racial violence from the Klan. Seventeen paintings were completed to support the book’s written narrative. As you view the paintings, you may see similarities to Grandma Moses’ work. The paintings were executed over a seven-year period with the last one completed in 2015. My hope was that the warm style will invite the viewer into the picture; while the related written narrative conveys the extraordinary hardships faced by Black folks living under Jim Crow in the South.

BB: I know that in addition to painting you also carve and work in other crafts. Where can people see your works? And what do you have coming in the future?

JS: I’m working on a few things that are related to social justice.  I just completed a painting to announce/promote a play that Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre will put on in mid-September on the R. King incident and resulting LA riots.  I’m also going to participate in a curated show related to social justice that will open in mid-october at Noyes Cultural Art Center.  Got to get to work on that piece.  More long term, I will continue with social justice work.  I also intend to create paintings that reflect on my experiences going back to the south with my parents and siblings.  We left a huge contingent of kinfolks in Alabama when we left.  There are some interesting paintings that I have in mind.

To see more of Jevoid’s work,  go to:  http://www.sugarcreekfolkart.com/ His book is available at http://www.upfromdownhome.com. Up From Down Home: The Journey North is available at Evanston Public Library for checkout.


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