The Brothers Johnson featuring Artists Al Johnson, Chuck Johnson and Femi Johnson is on exhibition at Rush Arts Philadelphia.
When you’re creative, the cross-pollination of ideas can lead to some beautiful blossoms. Such is the case with The Brothers Johnson, the current exhibition on display at abstract painter and poet Danny Simmons, Jr.’s public gallery — Rush Arts Philadelphia.
When Simmons and fellow abstract artists Al Johnson, Chuck Johnson, and Femi Johnson began showcasing their works on the Black Abstract Artists Facebook group during the pandemic lockdown, the idea of an exhibition began to take off. The presentation’s title refers to The Brothers Johnson, a classic Funk/R&B band consisting of two brothers, as well as to the talented trio of artists that share a surname but are not related.
“Listen, they’re all named Johnson – and it just hit me that each of their works is excellent, but they’re all very, very different and they’re all great abstractionists. And then it hit me that brothers are sort of that way: they’re different but they’re tied together by blood. These guys are tied together by abstraction,” Simmons recalled of his epiphany.
The works selected were based upon line placement, texture, shape, form and colors. The result is a fascinating visual collective co-curated by Dawn Stringer and Noah Kane-Smalls. Simmons explained, “Dawn Stringer, the co-creator of the Facebook group, had curated some other stuff, and she’s a great abstractionist. And Noah, the director of the Rush Arts Gallery, hung it… I let them do their thing. And when I saw the work — it looks so good, the flow of it — I was like, ‘I was right: This is a show.’”
The Brothers Johnson official description notes: “They collectively display passion, drive and not to mention matched creative wisdom. As teachers and mentors they see the value in passing creative support to their artistic communities. Each artist believes in allowing the viewer the opportunity of developing their own interpretation of their work which in turn can lead to a strong emotional connection.”
Simmons, who once coined his particular style of painting as “neo- African Abstract Expressionism,” possesses a talent and passion for the arts that reaches beyond the canvas. He is a published author, poet, painter and art philanthropist. He has become a leader in the art world with his philanthropic ventures, artistic talents and creative mind and drive. Notably, Simmons is the older brother of rapper Joseph Simmons (“Reverend Run” of Run–D.M.C.) and hip-hop impresario, Russell Simmons. The siblings are close and remain so to this day.
And, it’s a community connection Simmons ultimately seeks to achieve through art. Rush Arts Philadelphia, located in a repurposed bank building, has a stated mission “to build a community-driven art space that provides opportunities to both local artists and curators, focused on community revitalization and relevance to the people of the surrounding neighborhoods, and arts-based educational opportunities for local youth who can benefit from them the most.”
“This gallery, more than any other gallery that I’ve ever had, I wanted it to be global, but mostly a community gallery… I wanted to serve Logan,” Simmons explains. “And even if you never walked by, I wanted to be there and a sense of ‘This is ours.’ That’s all I ever wanted for it to be someplace right on the corner in the ‘hood that people know that they come to and feel like they belong there. Most art galleries do not feel welcoming to certain people of color, and I think it’s more economic than a racial thing…I want this to be there for people to feel they can step in here and walk around and not think they gotta buy some and walk out ﹘ and feel welcome. And this is something I had to make sure it did.”
After leaving the Rush Arts Philadelphia, check out the cheery drawings created by kids fastened to an outside wall and crossed the street to see one of several murals Simmons did in partnership with the Mural Arts Program. I’d passed the colorful work many times without fully reading the quote, which itself told a story: “Art can uplift a child today to be a leader tomorrow – Rev. Run”
As I took a picture, a man leaving the corner store stopped and gazed up. “That’s something right there,” he said, beaming with pride as he added, “That’s the kinda thing that makes you feel good and does the neighborhood good, too.”
Thus, in the course of covering this story, I’d encountered the connective beauty and pure power of art.
The Brothers Johnson featuring Artists Al Johnson, Chuck Johnson and Femi Johnson is on exhibition until April 22, 2022 at Rush Arts Philadelphia, 4954 Old York Rd, Philadelphia, PA 19141. All artwork shown will be available for sale. Gallery hours are by appointment. For additional information please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images: Bobbi I. Booker