Andrew Simmons' studio floor is covered in glitter.
This is a little unusual in a studio that mainly works with clay. The floors, walls, desks, chairs, tools and even ceilings of the Ceramics Building seem to be covered with a thin layer of reddish-brown dust that evens out the color of everything. Even as Simmons' glitter mixes with the work-laden dust on the floor it takes on a slightly duller hue.
This dullness disappears, however, as I enter the School of Art Gallery at Kent State and take in the brightness of Simmons' works. Most all of his sculptures are brilliantly shiny or covered with glitter.
These works, along with the master of fine arts work of three other talented artists will be on view at Kent State University's School of Art Gallery March 29 through April 8. The closing reception is Friday April 8 from 5 to 8 p.m.
Simmons grew up in Cincinnati and attended Ohio State University as an undergrad. That's where he took his first drawing class during his junior year.
This class had an immense impact on Simmons because he felt like he finally found a place where he fit in.
From there he began to take ceramics classes and found another teacher whom he greatly admired. This teacher was a strict potter and Simmons originally thought that was the only way to go. "I mean, he could have been my big bro," said Simmons, who spoke of striving to please this teacher through his undergraduate work.
He dabbled only briefly with sculptural construction as an undergrad, and it wasn't until seven years later, when Simmons came to Kent State, that he began to really experiment with form rather than function.
In the intervening time between undergraduate and graduate school, Simmons moved to Jersey City, NJ, near New York City, and became a rickshaw driver for five years. He said that job was the best thing that has happened to him because he learned more about "the business of human beings" there than anywhere else. Simmons said that he was able to witness the workings of capitalism, greed, and the dog-eat-dog mentality of people fighting over table scraps during these years. Plus, he was in the best shape of his life.
It seems as if these lessons translate directly into his current artwork.
In describing the theme of his show, titled Darker Now, Simmons said "put human nature in contact with divine myth and it's like the marriage of the jackal and the unicorn."
And sometimes a marriage between St. Francis and a jackal. Or Earth, in the clay he uses, and sky in the elevated ideal that the glitter alludes to.
But glitter itself can be seen as a cheap thrill as well, a low-class way to jazz something up. Something like, say, the Mother Mary. This ties into Simmons' ideas of spiritual poverty that have influenced the glitter-covered icons.
He says that the glitter is all about the holy light. When this light hits something, like ideas of religion, its reflection is still cast in doubt.
This contrast runs through the whole show. With every sculpture there is a feeling of something great that has a darkness inherent in it. This can be seen with the statues of St. Francis that have oversized, gaudy, glitter-covered masks of a jackal over their heads. Or the beautifully crafted, very shiny gold pig that has two heads and razor-sharp teats.
In all, this show is delightful to look at and sobering to think about.
Through his work at Kent State as a ceramicist, Simmons has discovered what he wants to do in life: paint everything with gold.