Malcolm Mobutu Smith (IN)
The fecund bounty suggested by the collective group of English harvest jugs struck me as exciting, right and ready for interpretation. Equally primed for examination are the cut slip images parading around the expanse of the rotund shapes with a skillful nonchalance -rehearsed forms, stylized conventions of shapes, symbols, and compositions. The compositions on these bodies are confined by the demands to circumnavigate the orb of the vessel. A pulse of images moving from mark to shape, from positive to negative forms, from image sign to text all with a gentle but persistent sense of horror vacui. These conventions and cramped spaces of design held within a frame, the frame of the vessel itself, the compositional space of the pot constrained by the terminus of foot and lip, by subdivisions of registration, the directional change from shoulder to neck, neck to lip all called to mind for me the same forces on compositional/ inventive spaces appended and utilized in the production of graffiti wall murals, burners, or train pieces, bombs. These locations of graf where the structure of the painted design is held in check by both the limits of the object itself – the expanse of a given wall or the fixed dimension of a train car and even more specifically governed by internal mechanisms of architecture or train car features such as the space below the windows on a train or the architectural confines of door jambs, windows and horizontal or vertical design motifs on a wall. These limitations create a space for the generated images to dance within and between in constant conversation and tension with the fabric of the form it resides on. It is this connection of cut slip, sgraffito decorations, on the harvest vessels and the landscape of graffiti imagery that I used as my bridge between then and now in my explorations of the Harvest Jug of North Devon from 1748.
I advanced into the territory of these jugs first with sincerity and studied making -seeking to practice the forms literally, to understand vessels breath. I reviewed dozens of the examples visually noting the variations and recurrences of the pots form in stature and relative liveliness. These signs of manufacture that give each pot its identity and forensic code of human presence and authority reveal the humanity of the making. By way of cagey extension and consistent with my strategy to merge graffiti imagery through the sgraffito conventions of the original harvests jug is the braggadocio of the messages conveyed in both systems picture making. The Harvest jugs happily advertising the unrestrained need and desire to partake of the libations held within while extolling the virtues of drinking. In a similar manner graffiti’s and hip hop’s main purpose is to shout its name and presence to the world proclaiming each instance to be the best example to date. Each tag and piece is a proud proclamation of necessity, virtuosity, and pride. Both types of imagery trend toward the bold and hyper flat. I worked directly with the sgraffito method but jazzed up the forms and dance between positive and negative. My iconography pulled from the now of graffiti the conventions of arrows, cloud and jagged movement. I sought to create vessels that honor the originals in fecund reality by bulging with improvised exaggerations “bent” like letters under the direction graf writer. The parallels continue as I found verse on the jugs and the verse through rap music to be well matched. One of the aspects of the original vessels design is the verse inscribed extolling the virtues of drink. I sought contemporary parallel with my hip hop vector mapping the verse into the work from rap cultures braggadocio. So in place of the existing rhyme scheme, I have created my own rap lyrics praising drink and its abundance. I resisted sourcing lyrics from existing music but as a practitioner of in both worlds, hip-hop and clay, I felt some authority in drafting my own. Like the motto inscription below the coat of arms "DI[struck-through]VET MON DRO I[struck-through]ETI.” Or Divet mon droieti “God and my right" rap music’s voice affects a position of authority as it touts its position wherein I have inscribed the words “Don’t Slip Up or Even Sip up” as command of sorts followed by the reverse sides inscription floating within a cloud element stating,
This is no cult of the forty [as in 40 oz beers]
We got ya covered
This brew’s for you
Hold’n well over a
In the original the inscription surrounding the Royal arms states: Honi soit qui mal y pense -- meaning “ Shame on whosoever would think badly of it”, meaning drink and drink up proudly. Ultimately my work is a reflection of the conversation I was having between the methods, images and my own playful sense of improvisations in form as filtered through my hip-hop roots.
Malcolm Mobutu Smith is an Associate professor of Ceramic Art at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana since. He earned his MFA from the New York College of Ceramics at Alfred University in 1996 and he studied at both the Kansas City Art Institute and Penn State University receiving where he earned his BFA in ceramics in 1994. Smith’s professional activities include workshops, lecturers and residencies including visits to Haystack Mountain School of Craft, Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts, and the Robert McNamara Foundation also in Maine. His works are represented in numerous private and public collections including The Luise Ross Gallery, New York City, the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, FuLed International Ceramic Art Museum, Beijing, China and Indiana State Museum.
Smith is guided by improvisations that merge form with graphic flatness. Smith’s clay work is inspired by intersections graffiti art, graphic structure of comic books and playful organic abstraction a manifestation his passion for jazz. His works rely on wheel-thrown and hand-built elements, most commonly presented as abstractions of cups, bottles, and vases. His studio interests also traffic in drawing, printmaking and 3D printing.
Don't Sip Up
Malcolm Mobutu Smith, 2017. Bloomington, IN. H. 12½”
This is the piece Malcolm created for THE LAST DROP: INTOXICATING POTTERY, PAST AND PRESENT.
Bideford or Barnstaple, North Devon, England, dated 1748. Slipware with sgraffito decoration. Courtesy, Chipstone Foundation. 1965.10. H. 12 1/8”
This is the historical piece from which Malcolm chose to draw inspiration.