John Sims, prominent Sarasota artist and former Ringling instructor, dies at 54
The conceptual artist, writer, and social justice activist, created art and curatorial projects spanning the areas of installation, performance, text, music, and film.
John Sims produced works that tackled racism and Confederate imagery.
His projects over the years included recoloring the Confederate flag in the red, black and green of the Black Liberation flags.
His “Recoloration Proclamation,” a multimedia project featuring a series of Confederate flag installations, included "The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag," and in 2020, Sims became the Ringling Museum’s artist in-residence, working on various projects related to the COVID-19 pandemic, policing, and southern symbolism.
In 2021, Sims — who died on Dec. 11 at age 54 — turned his attention to confronting Florida's existing Confederate symbols.
In a conversation with WUSF, he talked about why historical markers like the Gamble mansion, a former plantation in Ellenton, should include stronger representations about the stories of enslaved people.
"I want to be able to create a national challenge to recover and possibly reposition the plantation not as a marker, a memorial, or some sort of monument, but to a particular history and its victims," he said. "How do we create a path for transformation and national healing?"
Sim's work included staging various events in Sarasota.
For several years he hosted an annual Valentine's Day event called the 'SquareRoot of Love," featuring the readings of love stories, poems and letters. The goal, he said, was to create a space of love through the interconnecting art of poetry, performance, food, and wine.
In September, Sims wrote a tribute published in Sculpture Magazine to the recently demolished Sarasota studio of deceased sculptor John Chamberlain.
“I stop and stand before the empty lot, where once stood the great art studio of an iconic artist in a growing city on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico,” he wrote. “My thoughts are as blank as the lot itself. I pour some coffee libation to the ground in memory, in honor and respect for the spaces that bring forth the best evidence of our humanity and capacity to create.”
In addition to his artistic output, Sims was a mathematician and taught a visual mathematics curriculum at the Ringling College of Art and Design.
Sims’ death shocked many in the Sarasota community.
In a Facebook post, his brother wrote, "It is with a heavy heart, but calm spirit that we announce that John Sims, our beloved brother and MathArtist, transitioned on Sunday, December 11, 2022, at his home in Sarasota, Florida."
The cause of death was not immediately known.