Charles Simonds: Mental Earth, Growths and Smears

Clay sculptor swaps miniatures cities for hanging installations in this new retrospective

An artist obsessed with clay, Charles Simonds has been molding biological sculptures from the desiccate medium since early childhood. His prolific career received accolades early on for his miniature dwellings, which the artist began installing in various nooks around NYC and other international capitals before shifting to the gallery scene. The lilliputian natives of his imagination took their inspiration from American and African tribal communities, with a conscious dialogue evolving between the primordial clay and the primitive society. “Grown Walls” (2011), pictured above, shows the interaction of Simonds’ focus on life within his earthen medium. His long career has shown a steady progression, and his most recent exhibition, “Mental Earth, Growths and Smears” at Knoedler & Company in Manhattan—his first solo show in NYC in 13 years—tracks his recent changes.


The event marks his first retrospective in 30 years and demonstrates his evolution from miniature constructions to more permanent, epic installations. “Mental Earth,” a mammoth suspended piece from 2003, headlines the show. Measuring just over ten feet at its most robust, the photograph above hardly does justice to the scale of the piece. Also present are two porcelain sculptures, “Tumbleweed” and “Life, with Thorns”, which are distinctly lighter, more delicate takes on his theme. Simonds speaks of his work as “hypnagogic,” playing with the intersection between dreams and waking life. His message often paradoxically links the organic with the inorganic, regeneration with entropy. His deep colors and transcendent textures connote feelings that are often subconscious, evoking primitive and even evolutionary responses.

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Pictured above are “Two Streams” and “Stone Smears,” both of which are recent additions to Simonds’ oeuvre. Last night’s reception kicked off the exhibition, which will run through 14 January. Knoedler & Company is located at 19 East 70 Street, New York, NY.