Malcolm Mobutu Smith: Mutations at Luise Ross Gallery, New York
April 18 – May 30, 2015
From an early interest in art and continuing with obtaining an MFA from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, Malcolm Mobutu Smith’s passion for sculpture has a distinct mixture of elegance and whimsy, turning the utilitarian into the sublime.
In Smith’s first exhibition at Luise Ross Gallery in New York, the vessel form is a starting point to create the sculpture, and at the same time transcends its functional uses. A ceramic rope nearly strangles the neck of a bulbous bottomed bottle form entitled Gmirr. Moonshore Cloud and Blackcloud Cup are inspired by cloud transformations. These sculptures with precise yet fluid forms and multiple glazes illustrate Smith’s technical mastery while presenting an artistic vision beyond that of creating a beautiful vessel.
Smith’s seventeen ceramic sculptures in the exhibition are imbued with an undulating high energy. Their sensual fluidity takes on a figural quality as if a person is about to unfold and walk out of the sculpture. This can best be seen in works like Turvin. Rich earth tones curl and snake up the vessel form, culminating in a brilliant gold lip. As in all the work the figure is strongly hinted at in the sculptural curves and folds, but never fully delineated. The implication is that the figure would appear clearly if the viewer could just find the right angle. Ambiguity and playfulness are two of Smith’s great strengths.
Inspired by the energy of jazz, graffiti, and popular culture, Smith’s sculptures retain a feeling of improvisation and the ephemeral. As in Candeed, he combines an elegant mint green glaze with three-dimensional stylized glyphs, mimicking the ebb and flow of language and music. Perhaps given the influence of graffiti art in his practice it is not surprising that an artistic interest is the appropriation of territory, in this case, that claimed by craft, being reclaimed for art.
Orko from 2008, the earliest sculpture in the exhibition, combines many of Smith’s fascinations. He considers this a vessel form, nonfunctional though it may be. It contains the figural quality prominent throughout his work. Its base seems human, with an arm stretching out. It also embodies more graphic influences as seen in the vivid color and gold arrow that might be at home on a spray-painted wall.
Integrating a myriad of textural qualities, an unconventionally beautiful color palette, with undulating vessel forms, Smith plays with the relationship between two and three-dimensional space. He draws on the rich history of the ceramic craft while perpetually looking for ways to transcend its limits. In this, Smith’s first exhibition at Luise Ross Gallery, he succeeds.
Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10am – 6pm.
212 343 2161
Luise Ross Gallery
547 West 27 Street #504
New York, NY 10001
Above: Malcolm Mobutu Smith, Turvin, 2013, Stoneware, slip and glaze, 10 x 5.5 x 5.5 inches. Courtesy of Luise Ross Gallery, New York.