Charles Simonds

Charles Simonds: Sculpture with Clay

Charles Simonds majored in art at the University of California at Berkeley and after graduation, taught college art in New Jersey. There he discovered an area of clay pits that had once provided the raw material for some of Manhattan’s older buildings. He literally immersed himself in the subject, burying himself naked in a pool of wet clay to get a feel for the material. Back in New York, where he still lives, he experimented with clay and sand, learning to capture the look of the American Southwest or an African savanna.

Simonds’s sculptures are mostly enchanting miniature architecture and landscapes with small chambers and towers; some are abstract organic shapes, bulbous or phallic in form. Indoors, his sculptures are protected from immediate destruction, but permanence is not what his work is about.

The enduring value of his work – the art of it – comes across in the stories he tells and in the stories others tell about him. Like Robert Smithson, a friend and artist he respected, he embraces entropy. He builds his objects (at least his early work) for destruction, and he takes no measures to insure their survival. He said in the 1980s, “Their effect is enhanced by their destruction and disappearance.”

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