Home Museums Rose B. Simpson embeds ancestral stories into clay

Rose B. Simpson embeds ancestral stories into clay

by godlove4241
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When I first saw reproductions of Rose B. Simpson’s Mysterious Ceramic Guardians, I immediately wished I could see the actual objects. My wish was granted with his first exhibition in New York, Rose B. Simpson: Road Less Traveledat the Jack Shainman Gallery, until April 8. The subject of recent personal exhibitions, including LIT: The Work of Rose B. Simpsonat the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, New Mexico (2019), and Rose B. Simpson: Legacy at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (August 11, 2022-January 29, 2023), Simpson is an innovative sculptor who breaks the mold and, according to the ICA press release, extends her legacy as part of a multigenerational , matrilineal line of artists working with clay. She has done more with her talents than anyone has a right to expect, and it shows in the work.

Simpson is an enrolled member and resident of Khaʼpʼoe Ówîngeh (Santa Clara Pueblo), famous for producing black and red pottery. Her grandmother, Rina Swentzell, was an architect, and her mother, Roxanne Swentzell, is a highly respected ceramic artist and co-founder in the 1980s of the Blooming Tree Permaculture Institute, a non-profit organization that practices and teaches sustainable living systems. Her father, Patrick Simpson, who is white, is an artist working with metal and wood.

In order to build on this heritage and thrive, Simpson left the Pueblo of Santa Clara and studied flamenco dancing, ceramics, creative writing, and automotive science, among other subjects. According to the article “Rose B. Simpson thinks in clay” (New York Times, June 19, 2022), the turning point in her creative evolution was a school trip to Japan in 2010, where she discovered the Japanese aesthetic tradition, which does not separate art from craftsmanship. Although she makes no reference to it, Simpson probably also learned of the existence of kintsugi (“golden carpentry”), the art of repairing broken pottery using lacquer mixed with gold or silver powder. Spiritually, kintsugi is about practicing forgiveness and self-love, and accepting the ways in which you are broken.

While Simpson was earning her master’s degree in ceramics at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 2011, she studied slab construction with her ceramics teacher, Linda Sormin, a Thai-Canadian artist who explores migration and upheaval in her work. While working on a potter’s wheel emphasizes vessels and perfection, slab construction is a method in which one flat shape is cut and joined to another. From there, Simpson began developing her own technique, which she calls “slap slab,” combining it with traditional pottery methods she learned from her family. It is from this crossroads of cultures, techniques, chance encounters and self-determination that she has become one of the most prominent ceramic sculptors of her generation.

Installation view of Rose B. Simpson: Road Less Traveled at the Jack Shainman Gallery. Left to right: “Vital Organ: Gut” (2022), clay, string, grout, 91 inches tall; “Reclamation IV” (2022), clay, steel, lava and bone beads, leather, grout, 88 x 15 x 13 inches; “Vital Organ: Heart” (2022), clay, string, grout, 90 3/4 inches tall

Simpson’s figures are often made up of separate pieces of clay, as if she had reconstructed a shattered head and body. At the same time, she resists making her characters culturally specific while telling her own story and communicating her ancestral identity. In the New York Times she explained:

Native people have been subjected to so many stereotypes that I have to be very careful about this – we have seen throughout history how spiritual work is simply swallowed up, spat out, exploited […] People have been expelled from the tribe for making art referencing a specific spiritual belief.

How do you resist what photographer Lewis Baltz, in another context, has called “bulimic capitalism — the degradation of landscape for the benefit of gated communities? How to achieve a particular synthesis of opacity and clarity that rejects easy explanation, distraction and entertainment as the goal of art? Instead of moving to New York or another center of the art world and living in the diaspora, Simpson set up his studio in Santa Clara Pueblo, where his extended family has lived for generations. In order to reach and explore a domain of figures and language, Simpson developed his own system of signs. She shares this with First Nations and Native American authors, such as Cherie Dimaline, a member of the Métis Nation in Canada, and Stephen Graham Jones, a registered member of the Blackfeet Tribe, who use the genres of science fiction and fiction. horror to overthrow stereotypes. of indigenous peoples. Simpson took clay and, through various additions, used it to recall his ancestral roots in the Pueblo culture, address the current history of postcolonial recovery and ongoing trauma, and evoke a futuristic world in which these figures bear witness to an unknown culture, whose beliefs remain hidden. on our side.

The current exhibition consists of related gatherings of figurative sculptures in each of the gallery’s distinct areas, beginning with a room open to the hallway leading to the two main galleries. I see the arrangement as an interrelated installation focused on travel and transformation, as implied by the exhibition’s use of a line from Robert Frost’s well-known poem, “The Road Not Taken.” In the first space are two sculptures, “Conjure II” and “Conjure III” (both 2022). “Conjure II” is an ocher yellow clay head painted with white circles, resting on a block of weathered wood. Rising from the front is a tangle of curved, criss-cross, and looped white ceramic tubes. As the word “conjure” suggests, the viewer is about to enter a dream, an alternate reality whose relationship to our everyday world is unspecified, which is true of all of Simpson’s work.

Rose B. Simpson, “Road Less Traveled” (2022), clay, steel, reed, string, lava beads, grout, 63 x 14 x 14 inches

It’s telling that Simpson draws attention to the support the head rests on, which is labeled as “native New Mexico pine from new studio construction.” From the clay and auto parts to the hand-rolled beads and recycled wood of her new studio, Simpson seems to have gotten some of her aesthetic cues from her mother’s commitment to sustainable living systems. His rejection of capitalist consumption in artistic creation – which contrasts with many of our most famous sculptors – should lead us to reconsider the concepts of monument and permanence, and to recognize change as part of sustainability.

In the next large space are four sculptures, three facing the entrance and the other facing these sculptures. Three have cylindrical bodies, with a vessel affixed to their heads. Their sexless bodies are the color of red earth, and the shallow indentations on their surface are records of the hands and fingers that have touched, shaped and smoothed them. Each face bears a separate set of marks. A four-handled vessel with a sturdy tapered neck rests on the head of “Vital Organ: Heart” while an open, diagonally aligned rectangle rests on “Vital Organ: Gut” (both 2022). The third character, “Reclamation IV” (2022) has an ocher face and an earth red vessel atop his head. Three plus signs line up vertically on one side of his torso, while a winding trail of dashes leads and passes the X on the ship.

Although Simpson expressed that the plus sign signifies the cardinal directions and the X represents protection, we are left to guess the meaning of the other abstract markings on his work, which may cause us to look longer, ponder stronger and think more. on what we see. Isn’t that the hope of art? What would we think of the two vertical dark lines running down the face and over the open eyes in “Vital Organ: Gut”? Or the large open rectangle isolating the mouth and part of the neck from the rest of “Vital Organ: Heart”?

Installation view of Rose B. Simpson: Road Less Traveled at the Jack Shainman Gallery. From left to right: “Release” (2022), clay, steel, string, grout, 84 x 20 x 18 inches; “Remind” (2022), clay, steel, grout, lava beads, 66 x 35 x 15 inches; “Guides” (2022), clay, steel, grout, 65 x 19 x 9 inches

The asexual, hairless ceramic figure in “Road Less Traveled” (2022), which faces the other three works, stands on a low pedestal. Not part of a group, like the other works in this exhibition, I see this piece as a stand-in for the artist and for anyone who has decided to view life as a spiritual journey. As Simpson’s work indicates, we are members of a community and ultimately the authors of our own journey. The journey may not be heroic, but it is necessary. As the three numbers he turns to clearly show, ideally we are helped every step of the way.

The figure’s arms press against his chest, each hand clutching a shoulder, elbows pressed together; vulnerability and strength, self-protection and determination are rolled into a not-so-simple pose. The abstract markings that run the length of the figure – black on one side and white on the other – remind us that we live inside language, and that it is not understood by everyone. the world. There is nothing “universal” about what Simpson or any other artist is doing. What do the black wires around the figure’s size mean? Or the rows of pearls around the neck? What about the four protuberances starting from the back of the head? Is this figure a machine or a deity or both? What about the asexual nature of the characters in the exhibition?

Simpson’s work gave me much to ponder and ponder, while filling me with deep pleasure and respect for the sensuality and urgency of the work. His art inhabits a line in Wallace Stevens’ poem “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”: “to be / In the difficulty of what it is to be.”

Rose B. Simpson: Road Less Traveled continues at Jack Shainman Gallery (513 West 20th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through April 8. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.

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