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June 01, 2016 News » Cover Story

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Rooney Tunes
Local illustrator challenges norms one bubble gum creation at a time
By Kylee Ehmann

Pastel pink, bubbled letters and rainbows are not usually on the list of things that count as subversive imagery.

But this overtly traditional feminine design scheme, coupled with phrases such as "Masc4Masc" written in loopy lettering and cutesy images of men in lingerie, is pushing back against traditional gender norms. Andy Simmonds, local illustrator and the creator of Hey Rooney! products, uses his artwork as a way to convey joy through this aesthetic, as well as playing with conventions of femininity and masculinity.

"Kind of how I view art, how I enjoy it and how I approach it, is just not that seriously," Simmonds says. "A lot of people have these really narrow expectations for what is art, and I think that's the point of art. ... You get to define it yourself and break that view in content or medium or whatever that might be. It's just not that serious."

Viewing art as something more fun than studious is fed by his past growing up in Bountiful, Utah. Rather than anything specific to the city or his family, he says experiencing the strict interpretations of gender roles in a conservative, Mormon-dominated culture made him question the seriousness of the gender binary, an attitude that funnels into his creative process.

"I think this goes for anyone in similar circumstances. Their gender roles are very enforced and there are limitations on what is acceptable for you to express as a male, or as a female," he says. "And after having come out, I felt very liberated, obviously, and that just translated into my artwork and design to kind of incorporate and play with masculinity, femininity—kind of poking fun at it, but also making some statements about it."

Simmonds says working and living in Utah provides a lot of inspiration for his artwork because he says he sees the amount of influence the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has on local politics. His work does not come from a place of anger, he says, but more from looking at his environment in a critical way.

Clearly his message has resonated as he's amassed quite the social media following. His Instagram account alone (@heyrooney) has close to 50,000 followers.

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"I try to make a statement, but to do so in kind of a playful way that's hopefully not too heavy or serious," he explains. "I think it makes it more digestible for me. I do feel that it's important to take certain things seriously, but also to have a playful spin on it makes it feel easier to process and then respond to it."

Simmonds says he is continually responding to the images around him, as evidenced by his recent design, "Make America Femme Again," a bubblegum pink-and-white riff on the Donald Trump presidential campaign slogan. Every few of the ideas that he doodles and draws like this tend to ring true for him, and he runs with it from there, working and reworking an idea until it's ready to display.

"Sometimes it's really well-received and people kind of get the joke or whatever it might be, and sometimes it does not land and no one really cares," he says. "But regardless, I really enjoy being inspired by something."

And while the local social and political climate influences his artistic statements, it is the pop art of Keith Haring and Andy Warhol that heavily shape his bright, simple graphic artwork, and have since he was a kid.

"I'm a visual learner and I'm a visual communicator. So I'm drawn to that because it's the way that I guess I make sense of the world, or my own issues," Simmonds says. "It's a visual solution."

But now, he says, the images of Haring and Warhol hold a kind of power beyond aesthetic. While he was formerly unaware that both of these artists were gay, learning about their openness with their sexuality and their positive impact on the LGBTQ community now makes him value their artwork even more.

click to enlarge ARSALAN DEZHAM
  • Arsalan Dezham
Growing up, the designer says, he was in an "intense denial" about his sexuality. His art functioned as a kind of pressure valve to work through his feelings at the time.

"Of course, I didn't see it then, but I look back and, especially at adolescent art, and there's such a gay subtext in there," he says. "Art allowed me to ... explore my sexuality in a way that wouldn't be monitored or questioned and that I think really, although I did not realize it at the time, was really beneficial to me."

Simmonds came out while attending Brigham Young University, where he began to focus on lettering and typography as art.

"Being gay at BYU was awful, point blank," Simmonds says. "You are allowed to be openly gay, beyond that, your experience does not go past that. One would feel very stifled—I did, and left very quickly."

Since leaving BYU, the self-professed "professional tween" has focused on expanding his art base, both in the number of people the art reaches, and in what and how he creates his work.

Specifically, he says, he would like to work more with painting and drawing on paper, as most of his work is currently digital-only. By doing so, he hopes to get his work into more physical spaces, such as an installation or a gallery, all while keeping his pastel and bubbly aesthetic.

"I love making cute, pink, pastel things, sure, but I would like there to be the depth that I feel and process things with," he says. "I would hope that is communicated in what I do and that people feel something deeper than just pastels and things that they feel is just speaking whether they relate to it or not."

Simmonds is currently working on a handful of designs that are a bit more serious in nature, but is keeping them under wraps for the moment as he is sending them out to other publications.

"I feel I've worked so hard and have gone so much to pursue authenticity and if nothing else I hope that's what someone would take out of my work—that they'd feel inspired to or empowered to pursue their authenticity regardless what that means to them," he finalizes.


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About The Authors

Carolyn Campbell

Carolyn Campbell

Bio:
Campbell has been writing for City Weekly since the 1980s. Her insightful pieces have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists chapters in Utah and Colorado.
Enrique Limón

Enrique Limón

Bio:
Editor at Salt Lake City Weekly. Lover of sour candies.

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