DUBOSKI ART COLLAB CO-FOUNDER AND CONTRIBUTOR
If you’ve recently paid a visit to Detroit, or you’re a fan of the Detroit art renaissance, you have most likely noticed Simpson’s “Detroit is Home” mural installation on Broderick Tower. At more than twelve stories tall, the mural is a compilation of ten different smile faces (a Simpson hallmark) meant to abstractly represent all the different faces and colors of the people that call Detroit their city. You may have also noticed five full-length basketball courts splashed in his signature smiles and hearts, his numerous community murals, or you may have even been lucky enough to be invited to his studio. In any case, it’s hard to avoid the Phillip Simpson feel-good affect emanating from the Motor City. As a former student of the University of Michigan School of Art, Simpson said he got his professional start primarily painting portraits on canvas. Currently, his mediums include acrylic paint, spray cans, marker, roller paint, and pastels. However, he states, “I think my life changed when I started doing public art.” He loves the fact that community and public commissions have the capacity to be agents of real conversations and change. Simpson states, “Every time I go into a new neighborhood that I’m being hired to paint in, I make it a point to talk to the residents. I have to talk to at least a few families and a couple of kids because when I’m done, someone still has to live there.” He wants to make sure that the positive energy he is trying to put there is an integrated and accepted part of their space.
Indeed, part of his artist philosophy is a need to protect the good energy he works hard to cultivate. Starting about ten years ago, Simpson states that he began painting smiles everyday simply as a way to teach himself to smile more. He was going rough patch in his career and wanted to remind himself that there is so much to smile about. He states, “I had to teach myself that happiness is doing within. Painting smiles and talking about smiles only made me feel better.” Now, it’s part of his lifestyle and the reason he gets up in the morning to create. Not only does he feel like he must live by the ethos embedded in his own paintings, but he wants to convey to others that even during imperfect times you can still create your own joy. He tells me that he knows firsthand that a genuine smile, high-five, or hug can change your perspective. He says his artwork is a natural extension of that belief.
But Simpson says he’s not on this kindness mission alone. He tells me that throughout his life he has always had people in his corner that provided him a framework for love and optimism. From his hard-working mom, to the teachers who recognized his budding talent, the friends who refused to subject him adolescent trouble, his supportive wife, adoring daughters, and genuine community of like-minded artists, Simpson says he feeds off the positivity of his community as much as he tries to give back to it. He shares, “The public helps me provide for my family. I couldn’t do it without people buying my drawings and putting food on my table.” And with complete humbleness, Simpson states, “Being able to wake up and tell my wife that our bills are paid because I made something out of love and created something that someone else likes, so they paid their hard-earned money on it, it’s another feeling.”
When I asked Simpson what’s next, he tells me that he is working hard to continue building his latest venture, The Smile Brand, which is an art, clothing, and lifestyle brand centered on the values of positivity and optimism. In addition, he is working tirelessly on moving into the world of NFTs. Stating, “Even with the notion that ninety-nine percent of NFTs are going to fail, I truly believe we can spread some joy with smiles.” Therefore, the next goal is to network with partners that will help him give back to young people by way of the new digital-art landscape. He says that now that he’s got the ball rolling, the opportunities for travel, business, and philanthropy are endless. With excitement he tells me, “[The smiles were] just the beginning, now I just can’t stop! I’m going to take it to the moon!”
Photographer credit: MOON Instagram: @_lunarhaus_
Additional photo gallery credit: DAC, Instagram @artbyphillipsimpson, Instagram @thesmilebrand