Columbus, OH

Local artist Annette Simon’s found success in unconventional path

The Lantern
Annette Simons’ “Evening Prayer” painting. Credit: Annette Simons.

Now a permanent artist at Studios on High, Columbus’ longest-running artist-owned and operated gallery , toil painter Annette Simon came to realize her passion after years of life’s setbacks.

After the sudden death of her father at age 8, Simon said she became very introverted and insecure about any future she might have. As one of six children, Simon said she came out of her shell when she began drawing pictures and scenes in the fourth grade.

“That gave me an outlet to express myself even though I wasn’t willing to talk to other people,” Simons said.

Simon said she went on to work as a chairside dental assistant, and five years later, she attended college as a nursing student, where she said she never got away from art.

“The art kept coming up in everything I did. The art kept coming back,” Simon said.

In 1984, Simon said she pursued her love for art when she attended Ohio University for graphic design. After 20 years, Simon finally earned a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts at age 40, when she graduated with honors.

“I had conversations with my husband saying, ‘I’ll be 40 years by the time I get my degree,’ and he said ‘You’re gonna be 40 years anyway,’” Simon said. “As simple as that is, I never thought of it that way.”

Once she settled into Canal Winchester, Ohio, Simon said she started her own studio with four other artists above a local restaurant.

It was colleague and fellow Studios on High artist Marty Husted who encouraged Simon to enter Studios on High’s “Hit the Hop” exhibition —- a contest where local artists can submit their work to the studio for an opportunity to be seen in a gallery setting.

“The people at Studios on High fell in love with her work,” Husted said. “She just has a beautiful, calm sensitivity to her work. So, yes it’s inspiring. I think any artist would be inspired by it.”

In 2018, after four years of entering and selling her art in “Hit the Hop,” Simon said she was offered a position as a permanent oil painter at Studios on High. In 2022, Simon finally knew she was on the right path when she had her first one-woman show, selling 15 out of the 18 paintings on display at the exhibition, she said.

Simon’s daughter, Sarah Spence, said she admires Simon’s astounding resilience and perseverance in the pursuit of her artistic career despite life’s challenges and roadblocks.

“I think she’s been determined to say, ‘This is going to be my life,’ and she’s made it into her life. It’s inspiring to see that,” Spence said.

A professional artist with a preference for still life, Simon said she considers herself an impressionistic realist, trying to make the ordinary seem extraordinary.

Simon explained that her unique style of painting to elevate everyday items was first inspired by Wendy Holden’s “Born Survivors,” a true story about three mothers surviving concentration camp experiences.

“They talk about what they longed for, and one said, ‘I just wanted a bowl and a spoon to eat my food from instead of off the floor,’” Simon said. “It became clear to me, the stuff that we use every day, just like a bowl and a spoon, how much we take that for granted.”

An advocate for representational art, synonymous with realism, Simon paints scenes that viewers can immediately relate to and recognize. She enjoys and appreciates the idea of representing a place or object as it is now in her lifetime.

“People will say, ‘Well that’s just silly, why would you have to show me something that I already know?’ Well, I don’t know, but it’s being unappreciated,” Simon said.

When painting with pigment oils, Simon selects one warm and cool shade of red, yellow and blue. From there, Simon said she designs her paintings to be visually cohesive by mixing these three colors to make the rest.

Husted said he commends Simon’s attention to detail and color.

“She doesn’t just copy something, she goes beyond that with her color choice, with her execution and her sensitivity,” Husted said. “Her work is, it’s beautiful, it’s ethereal.”

Over the years, Simon has expanded her abilities to include jewelry-making, metal smithing and copper enamel, all of which help inspire her oil paintings.

“I honestly don’t ever feel that I’ve completed my education,” Simon said. “It retrains your brain to think of different ways to do things. Then you go back to your painting and you think ‘Oh, I could do that here.”’

Growing up with her mother, Spence adopted a creative spirit of her own while battling multiple chronic illnesses, she said. Spence said Simon helped her develop the skills to operate two online Etsy shops where she designs bracelets and clothing.

“What I did was use that creativity that she taught me,” Spence said. “She’s really given me something that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, you know, a way to make an income around being sick.”

Simon said that above all else her love for art stems from its innate nature to transport the artist away from life’s struggles, even using something as simple as crayons and a coloring book.

“I escape, and that’s what brings me peace,” Simon said.

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