New art displayed at Parkland

Treva Ellison The Daily Illini

By Jim Vorel

Malcolm Mobutu Smith is weaving through a crowd of spectators. Bedecked in a bright orange, almost Hawaiian-style shirt, with a shaved head and goatee, and sporting a large silver earring, he is easily seen in the swarm.

The bustling crowd is rapt, admiring brand new works of ceramic art. The art takes the form of fantastic vessels and cloudscapes.

They are drizzled with a panoply of exotic colors, looking alien and organic, and as if they have been grown instead of crafted by an artist.

Malcolm Smith is going from group to group, fielding questions about the art. It is his.

On the night of Thursday, Oct. 5, a reception was held at the Parkland Art Gallery in honor of and to showcase the new works of Smith.

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More than 100 spectators gathered to take in the small showcase and listen to a brief, informal speech given by Smith. He fielded questions about his methods, inspirations and visions for his work.

Many art-lovers gathered in the calm, cool environment, accented by the keyboard and guitar mellow jazz band playing in the corridor, sipping drinks and enjoying the art atmosphere. Tables full of fruit and cookies placated the patrons of the arts while children, perhaps slightly less interested in the goings on, ran amongst the halls laughing.

The showing is the second in a series of eight shows celebrating the gallery’s 25th anniversary. “Touch and Circumstance”, as the gallery is named, features Smith’s latest work in the world of ceramics.

“We are so happy to have Malcolm here,” Lisa Costello, gallery director said. “Parkland has a very strong ceramics program and the gallery seems to attract many excellent ceramics exhibits like Malcolm’s every year.”

The Parkland Art Gallery, 2400 West Bradley Ave., is at Parkland College, and is free to the public. Smith, who is currently an assistant professor teaching ceramics at the University of Indiana, is also offering his pieces for purchase, with suggested prices ranging from $375 to $550.

Smith’s ceramic works themselves are on the cutting edge of the field.

He uses influences ranging from clouds in Chinese artwork to modern-day graffiti to inspire his art, which mostly involves cup-like vessels.

“I enjoy making vessels because of their symbolic place that they hold in our home spaces”, Smith said during his speech. “They take on beautiful and graceful forms, the things that we place on our mantels.”

He calls the theme of his current series of vessels “Rigmarole,” a style that “plays with graphic cloud images, graffiti, and his African American spirit.” It is a name which typifies the dream-like quality of the names of his individual works, names such as “Kleptorical” or “Iffyglyph.”

Most of the works are created from stoneware or porcelaneous stoneware, which is slip-and-glaze multi fired to create fantastic shapes.

Smith also was showing off several non-ceramic works, which were digital prints expressing some of his influences in graffiti.

Smith is also heavily influenced by music, saying “I constantly have jazz music playing in my studio.” He also cited influence from hip-hop musical culture, particularly in its connection to graffiti.

Students attending the show certainly seemed to appreciate Smith’s vision.

“I really love this guy’s stuff,” Jennifer Zahn, junior in Parkland’s College of Art, said. “It’s really interesting the way that he mixed the Chinese influence with modern-day hip hop. I wouldn’t have thought those two could coincide.”

Zahn, who has been to four other gallery showings, hopes to study ceramics and some day produce works similar to those of Smith.

Smith himself is well on his way to full professorship and is working on a new set of pieces. One can only assume that they will be just as well received as this current set of pieces. From the excited responses of the fans of his work, Smith certainly is not going to disappear anytime soon.

Smith’s work will be on display through Oct. 26 at the Parkland Art Gallery.