From Canvas to Concrete: Phillip Simpson’s Artistic Revival

BY Ashley N. Littles

As Detroit eagerly prepares for the return of the Grand Prix, it’s essential to recognize the significant role of artist Phillip Simpson in revitalizing our streets and paving the way for revival.

From Harmonie Park to Detroit’s iconic Broderick Tower and the lively Monroe Street Midway, Simpson’s artistic touch has drenched the city in vibrant color, with his iconic Smile murals serving as a testament to the power of kindness as an enduring legacy.

Simpson’s distinctive abstract style captivates from afar, drawing you in with its lively hues, intriguing textures, and meticulous attention to detail. His hand-sketched wide smiles and eyes filled with wonder ignite a contagious joy and undeniable comfort.

Simpson’s “Detroit Is Home” mural at the Broderick Tower in downtown Detroit, done in collaboration with Rocket Companies. Art by Philip Simpson. Instagram, April 4, 2023. Accessed April 4, 2023. www.instagram.com/artbyphillipsimpson/
“I really live by the creed that you do to others how you want to be treated, and the Smile brand forced me to walk my talk. I’m never really telling people to smile at all. It’s more about inspiring people to have a relationship with kindness and with each other.”
Simpson sketching his iconic Smile silhouette at a local event. Photograph by jadorii.i. Instagram, 15 March 2023, http://www.instagram.com/artbyphilipsimpson

For Simpson, inspiration stems from the boundless joy that permeates every inch of the canvas, creating artworks that embody the very essence of art reflecting life—a deliberate, unmistakable intention.

Every craftsman has an origin. Philip’s origin is the city that made him and the home on 7 mile and Hoover that raised him.

Nurtured from a young age, Simpson’s artistic journey was fueled by the unwavering support of his mother, grandmother, and passionate educators who encouraged him to dive headfirst into his creative passions and refine his craft.

Embedded within his artwork is a profound connection to the city he proudly calls home, a tapestry of emotions and experiences intricately woven into each brushstroke.

When Simpson speaks of the women who raised him, the sister who holds him down, the wife who saved him, and the daughter who inspires him, his voice resonates with deep admiration and gratitude.

He breathes new life into the world through his art, igniting a resurgence of joy, optimism, and wonder that only art can evoke.

Every piece carries with it something beautiful that can be passed on to another person.

Simpson’s mural at the Cocoon Detroit building featuring his daughter Journee. Photograph by Philip Simpson. Instagram, May 12, 2023.
“I really believe we can change the world one smile at a time, by pushing kindness. I just know I’m putting my all into the canvas says and I hope they live way longer than I do.”

Painting is not the only way Simpson expresses his craft. His hope, resilience, and humanity are poured into every piece, including his groundbreaking collaboration with Shinola Detroit.

In an unprecedented partnership, Shinola commissioned Simpson to create artwork for a limited-edition hoodie and tote, set to launch on May 21, coinciding with Detroit’s exciting racing weekend and Shinola’s esteemed role as the race’s Official Timekeeper.

Simpson holding the Smile Man mascot head at Detroit’s Eastern Market After Dark Event. Photograph by @fatherstretchmybands. Instagram, September 16, 2022. www.instagram.com/artbyphillipsimpson/

While Simpson’s reimagined take on the famous Spirit of Detroit statue, adorned with his iconic smile, will undoubtedly catch the eye, it’s the subtle details—a signature honed since 8th grade and the harmonious fusion of Shinola’s brand logo with Simpson’s distinctive handwritten flair—that narrates a story of relentless pursuit rather than waiting for a moment to arrive.

Simpson embarks on a personal quest to paint one million smiles, leaving us to wonder if he keeps count of those emblazoned on the faces of those who simply want to witness his triumph.

His artistic vision and unwavering commitment have reshaped the city’s landscape, infusing it with vibrant energy and an enduring legacy that will continue to inspire future generations.

And kindness is the heirloom we get to inherit by taking in Simpson’s art and smiling back.

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