Princess Simpson Rashid’s Odyssey of Abstraction

Princess Simpson Rashid knew from the time she was in third grade that she was going to be a scientist and an artist when she grew up. The artist can say with certainty she’s done just that!

With a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Georgia State University and a passion for all things scientific, Rashid incorporates math, science, music and poetry into her vibrant paintings. Northeast Floridians will be able to experience Rashid’s abstract art at The Vault at 1930 this week. Odyssey of Abstraction: Princess Simpson Rashid opens Friday, Oct. 19.

The show is a comprehensive representation of Rashid’s style and creative variety within the genre of abstraction. “Even though I’m an abstract painter, I work in different types of styles within abstraction,” the artist explains. “So my goal is to carefully present three or four series I’m working on. They’re somewhat different, but you should be able to see a cohesive thread among them.”

Abstraction does not attempt to realistically recreate visual reality but, instead, utilizes shapes, colors, gestural marks and other forms of expression to convey a message. Rashid’s art is highly geometric in nature and, to her, it’s a language in its own right. “My overall idea is to portray controlled spontaneity, how you can use chaos but then you can use order to structure the chaos and try to balance between the two to you get something fresh and unique,” Rashid says, “The Odyssey, the journey, is going to take viewers to different places but let them see the breadth of creativity within abstraction itself.”

The Atlanta native is no stranger to the First Coast. After college, she married a Navy helicopter pilot and their military adventure brought them through Jacksonville on several occasions. The couple eventually settled in Mandarin. Rashid loves the proximity to the beaches and Jacksonville’s thriving cultural core. She’s a member of CoRK, working out of her studio in Riverside’s CoRK Art District East.

“After living in several cities, the East Coast and the West Coast, Jacksonville’s art community is very close and it’s large but it’s very supportive. CoRK is really amazing and it has really helped my art and my art practice,” Rashid says, “Being able to connect with artists all over—from the beaches to Downtown—that’s been great. I think the warmth within our community here has been the biggest thing that has affected my art process.”

Military moves and motherhood steered Rashid’s life onto a different trajectory than expected, but the experiences and challenges transformed her as an artist. She began focusing more seriously on becoming a professional artist when they were stationed in Puerto Rico in 1998. A close high school friend, Jon Martin, came to visit the young couple. “He stayed with us for a while and said, ‘What are you doing? Where’s my best friend?’ Rashid recalls. He kept at it. ‘You’re an artist. Here you are being a Navy officer’s wife … OK. But what are you doing? You’re losing your identity here. Get it together. You’re an artist.’ “

“He gave me a good kick in the pants and a nice lecture and right after I dropped him off at the airport, I went over and applied to art school. It changed my life,” Rashid laughs. “If he wouldn’t have visited me that time, I don’t know if I would have had the courage to take that leap.” Rashid studied printmaking and painting at Escuela de Artes Plastica (The School of Plastic Arts) in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Two sweet daughters joined the mix and Rashid was determined to find a healthy balance between her career as an artist and her growing family. She discovered just the role model she needed in African-American sculptor, painter and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett. “She made a way for herself, and her children were just as important to her as her artwork and her artwork was just as important to her as her children,” Rashid says. “She didn’t  compromise the things that were important to her just because of what society was saying. And she did solid work. Her body of work is terrific. I hold her up as a goal for me.”

The visual artist finds inspiration in masters of abstraction Wassily Kandinsky and Jackson Pollock, and in poetry and jazz music. Rashid is intensely interested in everything and finds pleasure combining entirely unrelated subjects in surprising new ways.

“My goal is to draw a line or provide a thread for people to see the connection between the different disciplines. Using color and design is a great way to bridge the gap. I like to create work that excites your eye, visually stimulates you, but also kind of makes you think deeper,” she says. Rashid utilizes bold colors along with symbols and numbers in her work and explores the connection between color, perception and symbolism.

Rashid hopes to elevate appreciation for and understanding of abstract art in this region. “Open your mind to abstraction. It’s harder to understand all the space of it when you first look at it, but slow down and try,” she advises. “Just like when you’re reading poetry or listening to jazz. It’s a little harder for our brains to accept—on a biological level, our brains are designed to keep things real, to recognize things. It’s harder for our brains, but it’s what makes life worth living, in my view. It may be a little harder on the face of it, but I think you’ll be glad for the effort.”

Musical and mathematical, engaging and energetic, Jacksonville’s queen of abstraction—Princess Simpson Rashid—works in abstraction, with nods to mid-century Modernism and Ad Reinhardt. Her works excite and, perhaps, inspire visitors to step out of their comfort zones and rethink the geometry of abstraction.