“We all end up in the clay.” This stark truth, spoken by seminal Delta Blues musician and self-taught artist John “Son Ford” Thomas (1926-1993) on his time working as a gravedigger in Mississippi, is powerfully conveyed in this exhibition of small clay sculptures. Many of these are skulls—portraits of the dead that often incorporate real teeth—as well as busts of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. This exhibition at NYU’s 80WSE Gallery has rightfully received an abundance of critical praise, as it manages to offer moving and insightful reflections on the strength of individual creativity, the lived realities of African-Americans in the South, and the mainstream art world’s fascination with self-taught artists.
Pictured: James Thomas: Untitled, 1987, unfired clay, artificial hair, glass marbles, paint and collar stud, 11½ inches high. Photo Marie Catalano. Courtesy William S. Arnett Collection of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation.