Rose B. Simpson Thinks in Clay – The New York Times

June 16, 2022 by No Comments

ESPAÑOLA, N.M. — The artist Rose B. Simpson was sitting in her 1985 Chevy El Camino inside her metalworking shop, trying to get the car to start. She popped the hood, turned the ignition and then lightly pumped the gas pedal. After she repeated this a few times, the car started to rumble loudly.

It wasn’t her everyday car, but closer to a work of art she has made over the last 10 years, here in the self-proclaimed lowrider capital of the world. Simpson repaired large dents by learning how to shape metal at an auto body school. She replaced the engine with one she bought in a racing shop in Phoenix. And she painted the exterior with a black-on-black, gloss-and-matte geometric design and named the car Maria in homage to the celebrated Tewa potter Maria Martinez of the San Ildefonso Pueblo, who died in 1980.

“Maria is as close as I’ve come to making traditional pottery,” said Simpson, 38, an enrolled member of the Santa Clara Pueblo (Kha’po Owingeh), based just south of Española. She belongs to a long line of ceramic artists there going back hundreds of years. But instead of making the sturdy, glossy red or black pottery her pueblo is known for, she’s gaining art-world acclaim for her powerful androgynous figures of clay, often with metal adornments that look like jewelry or armor or both.

After showing off Maria (“I have to work on the idle”), Simpson crossed a patio to her ceramics studio on the property, a small adobe structure with a “clean room” for sewing and drawing in back. A dozen of her tender-fierce figures stood in front, crowded together. Some wore beaded necklaces while others were waiting to be adorned with car parts — metal gears and brake discs — like a motley band of warriors preparing for battle.

Several of these sculptures, which she calls “beings” or “ancestors,” are now heading to East Coast museums: 11 recent works to the ICA Boston in August, and a new commission to the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Pittsburgh in October. And on June 18, a series of 12 slender cast-concrete figures will preside over a property in Williamstown, Mass., known as the Field Farm, part of a public art program run by the preservationist group The Trustees.

Called “Counterculture,” the nine-foot-tall herm-like figures have an otherworldly presence thanks to a startling visual effect: Simpson has carved out holes for eyes that go all the way to the backs of their heads, letting the light — or life — stream through.

“When you see light come through their eyes, it will be like the sky is seeing you,” the artist added, explaining that she was thinking about the global exploitation of natural resources. “I wanted to flip this script to make those resources watch you in an intimidating way.”

Concerned that ceramics at this scale could be fragile, Simpson made her molds for “Counterculture” by carving full-size versions in wood. But even these works began with clay maquettes.

“I think in clay,” she said. “Clay was the earth that grew our food, was the house we lived in, was the pottery we ate out of and prayed with. So my relationship …….



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