Keith Simpson

Food for Thought

Keith told me, over a decade ago, he read one of my essays on the Web, but we had never met. He was in town for a group show he is in, so he asked me to recommend a spicy Chinese restaurant. I sent a link to Spicy Village and slipped myself into his plan with his partner Jacey and their three-month-old infant.

Keith’s Instagram account is enigmatic. Let’s begin with the username: @earlyamericanrobotpottery “Early,” “American,” “Robot,” and “Pottery” sound like they were chosen randomly. You see pictures of odd-looking ceramic objects, a baby, 3D printers, electronic parts, nature photos, as well as objects you cannot identify. Your immediate sense might be that it’s all over the place, but you can also detect consistency. What, in writers’ term, can be called “voice” comes through, which, by the way, is an artistic achievement because just doing a million different things in life wouldn’t automatically lead to the development of it. The multifariousness of his work reminds me of Joseph Beuys.

It’s easy to see why the diversity of experience is helpful for writers in developing realistic characters and plots. In visual art, it enables artists to layer multiple gazes, which in turn allows us to appreciate the complexity of the dialectics in our visual field today. By “dialectics,” I mean the internal contradictions or conflicts that become essential constituents of what the objects are. Take his 3D-printed ceramics, for instance. Most ceramicists would look at his work and think, “What is the point?” because their motivation is to enjoy doing something with their hands. In today’s work environment dominated by computers, any type of physical activities feels luxurious. Keith’s work embodies the conflicts many of us face. The gaze of the capitalists driven by efficiency, profitability, and scalability is at war with the nostalgic gaze of how we used to express our individuality through hands.

Now he has added the possibility of layering parental gaze to his work. The technological advancement has led to each of us taking on more roles. The existential challenge today is sculpting something out of the inherent contradictions of these countless gazes.