Galería Atotonilco introduces internationally acclaimed artist: Gustavo Pérez
By Susan Page
Gustavo Pérez stands alone as the only Mexican ceramic artist who is internationally celebrated and admired. His ceramic vessels and sculptures combine a loosely thrown freedom with refined decorations that are visually captivating. Pérez’s soft palette and distinctive structural elements are his own statement, developed and refined over 40 years of intensive work. His work is exhibited in fine galleries in Tokyo, Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, and now, San Miguel de Allende. Galería Atotonilco owner, Mayer Shacter, himself a former ceramic artist, is honored to be among those selected by Pérez to represent his work.
One-man Show: Works by Gustavo Pérez
Sat and Sun, Jan 25 and 26, 12-5pm
Directions to the gallery in our ad in this issue.
Galería Atotonilco will exhibit the works of Gustavo Pérez in its brand new, recently completed addition to the gallery. The new space has added 1,200 square feet to the gallery’s showrooms, and will be devoted to the works of Peréz during February and March. The gala opening of the show will be Saturday and Sunday, January 25 and 26, from noon to 5pm each day. Pérez himself will be present at the opening on Saturday.
Gustavo Pérez grew up in Mexico City. Before he discovered his passion for clay, he studied engineering, mathematics and philosophy, never feeling fully satisfied or engaged. His chance encounter with clay in 1971 felt to him like his soul’s homecoming, and he has been single-mindedly devoted to creating art ever since. He has lived for several years each in Japan, Holland, and the south of France and has maintained his studio near Xalapa in the state of Veracruz for more than 30 years.
Mayer Shacter recently traveled to Gustavo Pérez’s studio near Xalapa, to select works for this exhibition and to interview Pérez.
Mayer Shacter: I can see a variety of influences in your work, including British and Scandinavian pottery, and a Japanese aesthetic. How is your work connected to or influenced by Mexico?
Gustavo Pérez: I don’t know what my influences are, and I don’t care about this. We live in a small world; we are connected to everywhere these days. It’s impossible to isolate the origin of ideas. My work comes from inside me and from my hands. My inspiration comes while I am working, while I am engaged in the process of creating. Sometimes ideas arise simultaneously in two different places, one never having seen the other. I became acquainted with the work of the [early 20th century] Biloxi potter, George Ohr, long after I had made similar folds and crunches in some of my pots.
Pre-Hispanic art is part of my background, but everyone loves this work. How it becomes a part of my work, I don’t know. Maybe it is in my subconscious. Things grow inside me. They have been growing for years. Maybe I had one idea when I was five years old and it took 50 years to come out. I think I have a huge cocktail of “influences,” including architecture, dance, literature, music — all of these have influenced my work.
I don’t follow what’s going on in the world of ceramics. I’m not aware of trends. I’m friends with some other artists, but I work all the time. I care only about my own work. My only other passions are classical music and literature. If I have any time not working, I want to read literature. I don’t want to look at what other people are making. I don’t care about vacations. I crave time to work. When possible, I work alone. I receive very few visitors. I don’t “have wine” in the studio. This takes too much time. Truly, I’m not arrogant; it’s only that I value my time so much. I love working! I do enjoy people, but I enjoy clay so much more. My clay is my life.
MS: What types of literature do you read?
GP: I read fiction from all over the world. Right now I’m reading Philip Roth, and the South African Noble Prize winner, John Maxwell Coetzee.
MS: You have lived in Holland, France, and Japan. Do you speak all those languages?
GP: Yes, and from Dutch, it’s easy to pick up German. French is important. If you don’t speak French, it is difficult to drink wine or taste cheese. There is a cultural connection between wine and the people who produce it. French descriptions of wine are not translatable.
MS: How does your work evolve? Are you conscious about moving on to a new series of work, or do you just work and then discover that you have a new series?
GP: Everything I make is easy. It flows. For nature, a flower is easy. It looks complex, but it’s what nature does. My work is about the capacity of my hands to make something.
I do work in series. It takes time for one idea to evolve. Not every piece will be perfect, but you have to make them all to get to the brilliant one. You never know which one is going to be the great one. It’s never the first one, and it’s never the last one. In the beginning, you are trying too hard, and the first piece you make will necessarily be limited because ideas build on themselves. And in the end, you’ve mastered too much. It’s in the middle that the magic happens and the piece is just right! After that, it’s too good, so it’s not good enough.
MS: Since you like to work alone, why do you have apprentices?
GP: I do need assistants. There is a lot of physical work involved, from preparing clay to stacking the kiln to packing work for a show. If I allow an assistant to put the finish on a piece, that is, to smooth out the rough clay after it dries, I can be creating more pieces. So assistants come to work in my studio. They are welcome to watch me work and to create their own work. I don’t teach, but they learn a lot by observing. They can’t chat while they work. Of course they can talk about the work, but since I’m working in the studio also, I prefer not to have idle chatter. We listen to music.
Constantino has been working with me for 20 years. He creates my “studio” pieces, and he does teach and works with apprentices.
Everyone is welcome to the opening of the Gustavo Pérez exhibition, January 25 and 26 from 12 noon to 5pm each day. The show will be up throughout February and March. Directions to the gallery are in the Galería Atotonilco ad in this issue and on our website: www.folkartsanmiguel.com.