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Queensborough to exhibit Def Poetry Jam founder’s art

Queensborough Community College will display the paintings, mixed media works and extensive African art collection of Danny Simmons for the next two months at the Bayside school’s gallery.

Simmons is also known for establishing Def Poetry Jam, a long-running series on HBO that presents spoken word performances and has become associated with the poetry slam movement, with his younger brother, Russell Simmons, one of hip-hop’s most successful and longstanding moguls. His other brother, Joseph Simmons, is Rev. Run of the influential Hollis-based hip-hop group Run-DMC.

The artist, known for his abstract expressionist oil paintings and mixed media projects, said the college’s art show marks his return to northeast Queens.

“It’s kind of a coming home thing,” he said. “I was there the day Cardozo opened and, when I was a senior, I hung out at Queensborough.”

“It is an honor to return years later and be recognized for my art,” Simmons said.

Queensborough, at 222-05 56th Ave. in Bayside, will display the artist’s “House of the Spirit” exhibit through May 7.

The show will also include Simmons’ large collection of African spiritual objects from the sub-Saharan region of the continent. Some of his own work has been inspired by the African pieces he has collected.

“This exhibit is the first public showing of my entire African art collection, which is very precious to me,” he said. “My paintings are an attempt to connect with the spirit world.”

He said the 50 African pieces on display as well as the 20 works of his own at the gallery represent magical ceremonies from Africa that might be equivalent to “voodoo” in the United States.

The pieces, which he bought mostly from African art traders, include work from the Congo, Burkina Faso and Benin.

Simmons said Queensborough’s African art collection is the city’s third-largest after the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum.

Faustino Quintanilla, curator and executive director of the college’s art gallery, called Simmons’ work “vibrant.”

“His passion for the rich tradition of African art, contrasted with his playful approach to painting — you can almost hear the sweeping sounds of Mr. Simmons’ brush on canvas — complement our permanent African art collection nicely,” Quintanilla said.

Simmons is also the co-founder and chairman of the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, which provides disadvantaged youths with arts access and education.

The foundation is part of Rush Communications, which is owned by Russell Simmons and is one of the largest African-American-owned media firms in the nation.

As part of Rush Philanthropic, Danny Simmons also founded Rush Arts Gallery and Corridor Gallery, which was converted into a site for aspiring artists at the painter’s own Brooklyn loft. He has written several books on the art scene in New York City.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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