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How this Petersburg artist is transforming trauma into art




PETERSBURG, Va. — Mental health has been the focus for many this year, especially following the pandemic and a string of mass shootings nationwide.

The heaviness of the world isn’t lost on Tre Simms. He knows the community is faced with devastating headlines every day.

The Petersburg native who is known for his abstract art paintings leans on his creative outlet even more amid the trauma.

“It helped me deal with my day-to-day stresses in ways that I can now express myself because I’m not the best at verbalizing. But when I do art, I feel free and have the ability and don’t feel restricted,” Simms said.

His life’s work, Artzbytre, is inspired by famous abstract artists Pollock and Basquiat and Simms loves to share it with the community.

“What you see in the collection to the right of me is Basquiat-inspired pieces, however, it’s with my own twist. So when I had done my own version of it, I had to think outside of the box and use different materials and I used charcoal and acrylic-colored markers,” Simms explained.

With each carefully crafted piece, it’s the message behind the artwork that Simms hopes will shine through.

“Art is very therapeutic and can be for everyone. Whether they may have mental health issues or not. Art, for tens of thousands of years, it has been around, actually helps you to express yourself. It can tell a story and art can capture history,” Simms said.

Deeply personal art pieces in his Angel Collection have helped him cope with emotional losses. His abstract art mask series blends his love of art and drama that he cultivated while attending Petersburg High School.

Simms plans to share it all during his first solo exhibition on Friday at a West Old Street studio in Petersburg. It’s his way of giving back to the place that led him to his life’s passion.

“Friday will be a free event. I’ll be exhibiting all of my art. Proceeds will go to the Petersburg High School art program and I will be talking about mental health and explaining how art has been very therapeutic,” Simms said.

It’s something he hopes can inspire and lead others to their own healing.