An Interview with Artist Rhonda Smith

11) Smith_Sulphur the Element 2Smith, Rhonda, Sulphur the Element, 2019, clay, wire, acrylic, cord, screen, net, thread,
32”H x 54”W x 14”D

What would you say is a critical part of your art practice and how does it show up in this work?

I feel burdened by the state of our planet and how we humans have been paragons of disrespect. If there is a new species missing, I feel responsible. That deep connection one feels for life took root long ago. I had an outdoor childhood, free to explore fields, streams, ponds, and woods. All the neighborhood kids played outside, winter and summer. My parents instilled in me a reverence for living things but this attitude probably came also from life itself.  My work is an exploration of natural formations. The work in my show, Sulphur, The Element, is an example. For years I tried to paint a sulphurous cloud. Now in 3D I am able to embody it. Sulphur has 8 valent points so lots of other elements can connect to it to make something new. Its vapors rising from the Campi Flegrei in Naples, Italy convinced the ancient Greeks that the entrance to hell was near. And that term, hellfire and brimstone, always describes the foreboding. Sulphur was one of the original 7 elements here at the beginning of our planet and is key in many functions including in many living organisms. But I also show the other side, what is pressing and difficult to accept. The installation in my show, Battleground: Ambition, Necessity, Ghosts, makes tangible this reality we live in, that we and a few other creatures are now the weed species and we live among lots of ghosts.

Do you have any habits or processes that occur in the studio which are unique to your practice?

I don’t think there is any process unique to my work.  I just join a stream. I don’t feel the creative process is mine. It is more like a force, not to be reckoned with, but accompanied. Mostly I try not to get in my own way. When I am very insistent about an idea the rigidity shows up immediately in the work.

I come into the studio and look at the things in progress. I made a pact with myself long ago to not hate anything I am doing. If it isn’t working just turn it to the wall. Otherwise it is too disharmonious to oneself. Then, after looking at everything, I work on a crossword for about 15 minutes; ok, sometimes half an hour. Then I start in. I can have an idea, but I will not have a sense about how it will take form.

5)Smith_Building 6.(Ghost)JPGSmith, Rhonda, Building 6 (Ghost), 2018, clay wire, and, gouache, 8”H x 2”W x 13”D

What would you want a viewer to walk away with after viewing your exhibition?

First, to be hit in the solar plexus; that place where the nerves tingle, surprise hits, feelings stir, one senses the encounter is with something different.

Second, to be haunted enough to feel again our untenable position. I feel art can do this directly without being pedantic.


Rhonda Smith: Oh That Beautiful Planet, What Have We Done? is on view in the Kingston Main and Center Galleries and Connie Goelz Schmitt: Neverending Stories is on view in the Kingston Project Space through June 30, 2019.

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