The McKee Gallery is presenting ten-year survey exhibition of Daisy Youngblood’s sculpture (New York, April 2-May 30, 2015) that includes all 14 sculptures over the last decade. This is an exciting event, showing us these rare works by one of the most impressive ceramists of our time. It is also a tribute to the loyalty of the McKee Gallery that has stuck fiercely by Youngblood through thick and thin when she contributes little to the monthly rent.
Above image: Daisy Youngblood, Chandrika (detail), 2014
Whenever I am asked to name the five or ten most important artists working figuratively with clay Youngblood is the first name that comes to mind. I never confronted a work, whether tiny or large, that did not stir the gut and discomfort the subconscious. One of my few regrets in life was the sale of a bull by the artist that an inner voice told me to acquire. I think of it every week but at least I did acquire visiting rights.
Her achievement is all the more impressive because the genre in which Youngblood works is one of the most overpopulated cliché zones in the medium; primal-seeming, low-fired, ritualistic prehistoric figures with scorch marks has been in production since the 1950’s and remains so today by countless makers. Adrian Saxe, the porcelain genius succinctly named the work “crispy-critter art”. It’s the short cut to faux profundity and the earth mother and usually only manages to feel trite and childish.
Youngblood has a shamanistic aura to both her work and her persona. I have been to many of her exhibitions have been in the field for more than 40 years and despite many attempts to connect, I have never met her. Few have. Her collectors tell strange stories of her sculptures moving of their own volition. These tales may or may not be true but they all add to a certain drama and sense of danger to her oeuvre. Certainly her sculptures are emotionally loaded.
All works are in low-fire clay or else in bronze but cast from clay. The gallery points out that the assembled works reflect a major change in her approach to making sculpture. Although she has used pieces of wood in many earlier works, found objects in nature are now incorporated more decisively into the clay and the scale has increased. Stones are used as heads, eyes, noses, torsos; a long concave piece of oak is a body. They are all equal parts of a living whole for Daisy Youngblood.
The earliest piece in the exhibition is Budhi (2006), a moving portrait in clay of her daughter with Down’s syndrome; Venus (2007), a fierce crouching figure that could be animal or human, blurring the lines between them. Anubis and the First Chakra (2012) is a major statement of materials and essence. In Chandrika (2014), a long reclining figure, seemingly moribund, a strong influence of Buddhism is evident.
“Some of the sculptures over the last ten years,” the artist writes, “show signs of despair, anger, fright, none of which were intentional, but the feelings leaked through. I think the sculptures can be seen as my slow, persistent awakening to the realities of what may be in store for us on a rapidly heating planet.”
Youngblood was born in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1945. She studied at The Richmond Professional Institute, Virginia, and received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship in 2003. She has lived in New York City, Bisbee, Arizona, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and currently lives and works in Costa Rica. As she writes, “I live in Costa Rica on the side of a mountain with my husband and daughter. A big river runs around the farm, the old forest still breathes above us. I go down a steep trail to my studio every day, it’s a place of large boulders and riverlets.”
A 40-page catalogue is available from McKee Gallery with 25 color illustrations and an essay by Constance Lewallen.
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of CFile.
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