Rose B. Simpson’s deFINE ‘Countdown’
“Being in an agitated state wasn’t going to allow these pieces to come into being,” artist Rose B. Simpson said of the four large-scale sculptures that occupy the jewel boxes of the SCAD Museum of Art. “The water in the clay is listening to my internal molecular water, so it’s going to respond and break. Or explode in the kiln. The tension is already in the work. These really heavy clay works are leaning against this glass…that’s tension enough.”
Simpson’s frequent, sweet laughter when discussing her serious Countdown sculptures seemed particularly suitable to the moment. As she spoke with curator DJ Hellerman during this year’s virtual SCAD deFINE ART, the artist was in her home studio in New Mexico’s Santa Clara Pueblo, just across the Rio Grande from her tribal center (“If you yelled from the center of the pueblo, I could hear you”) while the curator was in the museum in Savannah.
“I can’t relate to the feeling of placelessness,” Simpson said, “because I had the privilege of growing up in my ancestral homelands, spending time with my great-grandmother in the house that her great-great-great grandmother built.”
Simpson credits her mother, the noted artist Roxanne Swentzell, with creating her foundation: “Ceramics was my mom’s livelihood, and it fed our entire family. I didn’t realize until I was in grad school that I had the privilege of coming from a family that supported itself through its artwork. That’s a neural pathway I didn’t have to build.”
As Simpson peered through her computer screen, it made for a powerful if unintended corollary to her works at SCAD MOA, where the Countdown sculptures — enormous, armless stoic beings, adorned with glyphs — lean against the inside of the jewel boxes, in conversation with passersby.
“I see the glass as a material you work with, not a spacer between human and art,” Simpson explained. “It’s really a vital point of interaction.”
The Countdown sculptures were created as a commission for SCAD MOA, although Simpson has only ever visited the museum virtually. “The first time I went onto Google maps and wandered around the streets and looked at these things, the metaphor that they provide is spectacular. The shape of the brick cut out from the side of the building is a threshold. The art has to engage with sunlight, with birds, with trees, that all becomes a part of it and that’s so exciting.”
Metal, epoxy, cement, string, leather, and mixed media all play literally supporting roles in Simpson’s Countdown, though her primary material preference is set:
“I keep choosing clay. Clay is full of molecular water. Whatever your intentions are, it listens and responds to those intentions. I keep returning to clay because we have an ancestral, familial relationship, and clay keep me honest. It has the capacity to rip open my chest cavity and reveal what’s inside. If we don’t have compassion for ourselves, we will self-destruct, just like clay.”
Visit Rose B. Simpson.
Written by Peter Relic.