Thursday, December 10, 2009


I have been making small terrariums.

First, there was one.

Then two.

And then three.
Soon, there were many...

It all started by accident, one day in the woods when my son Javi uprooted a tiny patch of moss from a rock. A "car accident", he said. For some reason I felt compelled to take the moss home and take care of it. I put it inside a walnut shell so I could transport it.

When I got home, all the little moss plants had shriveled and shut close. I was amazed at how sensitive they were. I sprayed them with water once, and watched, in total awe, how one by one, each of the tiny spider plant-like shoots begun to open in real time, before my eyes. For the first time, moss appeared to me as "animalistically animated" and alive, like amoebas or octopuses or hands or eyelashes.

In that moment, I decided I was obsesively fascinated by moss. Hundreds of different species and varieties of miniature, ancient and resilient green creatures that grow in the cracks of our constructed space, slowly and silently plotting to reclaim the world in nature's name.

I begun collecting and caring for different species, trying to observe and learn about their atmospheric likes and dislikes, quiet behaviors, etc. I also did some research and begun understanding some basic considerations and conditions neccesary to support and sustain a terrarium's life.

Speaking of the terrarium's life, let's go a bit deeper into these micro worlds...

I love these worlds. I love to make them and arrange them, trim them, water them, run around inside them and get lost. And find something.

Maybe to better convey the space that I get into when working on and observing these, I can share with you a video I made, called "mysterious micro-world". Also here you can see the sensitive plants I was talking about before. Just so you know, there is no effects on this video, no changing of its speed or anything. Only the creatures, a musical piece I made in 2006 and Javi's finger.

After a little while the terrariums were cluttering my kitchen. I felt like I wanted to keep making them, but there seemed to be no room. I also had to work on an exhibit for which I had to create 25 artworks that were 5 inches or less. I put it together and decided to make terrariums for it.
After a lot of research, I begun collecting all the materials I would need. This took a long time, since I had to find and prepare the proper environment, select and collect compatible specimens, and put it all together. Then regulate the atmosphere, find the right balance of moisture/soil/container/plant, and sustain the contained balance of a new living environment. But I had some experience from the previous terrariums that had worked, so this didn't seem like too much of a risk.
After about a month or two or daily care and regulation, and definitely after some failures and learning experiences, I completed the 25 terrariums.

Each terrarium is different and special, and while I have grown a bit attached to them, I am hoping they will find happy new homes.

The exhibit is called "25 squared" and it opens tonight, December 10th, 2009, from 7 to 9 (I actually have to get going!) at FE Gallery in Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh . The exhibit runs until January 16th. (Update: It is now 10pm on the opening night, and 16 terrariums have been sold! Wow... So, if you would like a terrarium better get there now!)
Its a cool concept show were 25 artists make 25 artworks that are 5 inches or less. The exhibit looks amazing, with a total of 625 quality works.
I setup the terrariums in these beautiful shelves made by John Mentzler, from Urban Tree Forge. The shelves are gorgeous in themselves, and they really work perfect with the terrariums.

So the terrarium journey has been great so far, and I feel like it is just beginning. I have another large-scale terrarium project coming; an installation piece that I hope gets accepted. But I am going to keep it secret until I actually create and implement it.
For now, it is only an idea...


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Art From Scratch (DIY Pottery)

I usually talk about how process is one of the most important aspects of my art. I thought I'd share a little bit about one of the aspects of my process which involves gathering and preparing materials. For this purpose I figured one of the more interesting and involved mediums to share would be clay. I thought it would be cool to share the entire process from digging the clay to the finished piece being displayed. This might be the teacher part of me: since I know how difficult it was for me to teach myself this process, and how much I could have used some more tips, it is my responsability and pleasure to share this experience with any and all interested ears (however, if you are interested in DIY ceramics, I would say close this page and go get dirty instead!)

So, before I get to the actual point of this post, the art from scratch demo, allow me to meander within the topic, as usual.

For about 5 years now I have been collecting and using local clay for a body of work I call POK. I define POK as "mud" or "art bread". My idea for POK was to discover a personal connection to the medium of clay, from zero, as if I were a cave man. I thought "how hard could it be?" "just dig some dirt and mix it with water and fire it!" Well... I have come a long way since...

Though I do not consider myself a potter, I have gained an enormous respect for the entire legacy of potters since antiquity who discovered these techniques and refined them to a master craft. I believe this appreciation has come from the fact that I experienced, first hand, the many hardships and learning curves the first potter might have encountered. I also believe this could be an enormously enriching part of any first potter's learning curriculum.
Here is a page from my sketchbooks, of an early exploration into the POK experience. I like to keep detailed documentation of all my processes for later use in my studies and teaching.

Here is a similar documentation, although here I am exploring the extraction of colors from different vegetable matters to make ink.

I have been long fascinated by the idea of "art from scratch", or the harnessing of art materials from readily available, free sources. One of my biggest art fantasies involves being stranded in an island, empty handed, and being able to make art. Of course survival itself has always been a fascination for me as well.
But even here in the urban context there is much to say for the enormous ammount of resources available to the creative mind. Beyond accesibility, there is an almost romantic passion in me, to create something out of nothing, or to find/make value of things forgotten or taken for granted. Creating art from scratch is a challenging, demanding, sustainable, tremendously educational and profound practice. Don't take my word for it, try it.

Needless to say, I am of course not the only one to share this passion. In fact, just last week a new venue endorsing this kind of artistic exploration opened here in Pittsburgh. The Irma Freeman Center for Imagination had its grand gala opening last Friday, October 9th, 2009. It is an art space on Penn Av. offering workshops and hosting exhibits, etc. The theme for this first show was salvaged art, welcoming recycled, reclaimed, gleened, salvaged and found arts of all kinds. I was thrilled.

So, especifically for this show I decided to make two pieces. The first one is a playful catalog which I donated to the center called : "Art Media for the Urban Scavenger", with 30 or so potential "free" mediums of art. They are, from top to bottom, left to right: terracota clay, ochre clay, orange clay, sand, salt, sticks, brick, ground stones, rust, rocks, wood, cardboard, newspaper, plastic, cloth, lint, metal , glass, wrapers, stuff, charcoal, soot, coffee, tea, grass, flowers, spices, berries, dirt and imagination!

While this was meant to be a conceptual and playful statement, I was hoping it could be seen as a potential tool of inspiration for art students as well. All of these materials I have actually used (and continue to use) for the creation of "fine art".

The second piece I decided to make was the reason for this post. It is called "Emergence of the POK Man" and it was made from scratch, using clay from the Allegheny Cemetery, located just a block from the IF Center and my house, which I thought was appropriate. Later I mention the strong connection I feel to this clay, and how this history is translated, as with all art materials, to the energetic charge of the finished work.

The clay at first is raw and impure, full of stones, roots and other organic matter. My first step after gathering it (in this case I don't need to dig for it myself) is to grind it to a somewhat fine powder. I do this using a stone, and in this process I can get rid of all larger rocks, etc.

I then mix abundant water into it and start mixing it all together, shooting to get a homogenous mixture.

In this process I quickly gather many "conglomerates" of impurities, which rather than tossing I like to pack into condensed balls for later use, potentially ritualistic.

Once I have a homogenous and relatively clean mixture I pour it through a really thin mesh, since only the finest and cleanest clay will be suited for art. This was an important part of the POK lesson: even the tiniest stones, when fired to a high temperature, go kapoof!
Other impurity conglomerates, finer ones, come out of this process.
Here I have to add that somehow, taking care of cleansing the clay, one feels as though impurities are being extracted from one's own self. This is a feeling that may be familiar to anybody who takes care of things, beautifies and creates, like a gardener.

Once impurities have been removed, I leave the clay to settle for several hours, and in this process all the water rises to the top. I then pour it out, getting a thicker and more solid paste each time I repeat this.

One of the helpful tips I learned from a potter friend, Bruce Brinker, is to pour the slip onto a plaster tray, which soaks the moisture out quite fast. Once dry enough, the clay is ready to use. One other step before actually sculpting is to add other materials to the clay to give it the desired properties. In this case, and often, I add sand, which gives the clay body strength, especially in better resisting changes of temperature during firing. It is also essential to "wedge" the clay extensively, removing the air from it while at the same time mixing it further into a homogenous mass. As any potter knows, not wedging the clay can result in unwanted explosions during firing.

I then begin to sculpt the form using structural support when needed.

As the clay further dries, more details can be added, always perfecting and refining the form.

Once the piece is completed, I have learned it to be very important to allow it to dry slow, especially with non-industrial clay. To do this I make a cave of a plastic bag to maintain a moist environment. Chances are the piece will crack if dried too fast.

As the piece dries I like to polish it using a spoon to make the surface smooth.

Once the piece is completely dry it can be fired. In order not to betray my "primitive" process I most often fire my pieces in a bon fire. I do a firing technique inspired by Native Americans, as I learned it from a documentary about potter Maria Martinez. It involves a reduction atmosphere to turn the clay black, which is optional. As a parenthesis, here is a sketch piece I made in a bon fire a couple of weekends ago, just for fun. The reduction atmosphere was done inside an altoids box...

In this case though, due to weather and time constraints I temporarily fired "Emergence of the POK Man" in my kitchen oven. I will do a propoer firing soon. Firing could be an entire, long and detailed extra post (maybe I'll get into it some other time!). Keep in mind that I am sharing a very basic an general description of this process, and each of these steps has lots of important details I am not including simply for practical reasons.
So finally, here is the piece as it is being shown at the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination.
Notice that I choose to display it among the raw clay and the impurity clusters. I recomend visiting the exhibit and seeing the piece in person, along with the huge and fun collection of recycled artworks being shown.

To end, I have added the statement I wrote for "Emergence of the POK Man":

"The Pok Man is made of clay from the Allegheny Cemetery, located 1 block away from my house. Collecting clay here seems appropriate because it is nearby and it is free. I enjoy walking among the wild, silent trees, in such ominous and grounding place. New holes are made there every day, and I don't need to personally uncover the red and orange clay: it is already there, like an opened wound of the earth. This clay is powerful to me. There is a profound richness in the history of this soil where, for centuries, bodies return to the earth where they came from, turning to primordial dust as nature continues to cycle. As in Neruda's "Alturas de Machu Pichu": "When the hand of clay-color turned to clay and when the eyelids shut..."
The POK Man is a symbolic aftermath of the death cycle, honoring the re-emergence of life. From the earth grows a figure which is the voice of Spirit re-emerging from Matter. It represents the cycle of the inert acquiring Anima or "life force". In this case, the POK Man is surrounded by the raw dirt that gave birth to him, and by conglomerates of stone and detritus which are the impurities removed and left behind in this process of rebirth. As the cycles continue to renew, so the new life filters and cleanses itself, becoming ever anew, always emerging, eternal."

October 13, 2009 AA09

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Here is a site-specific installation work I made for a transitional/conceptual exhibit at Moxie Dada gallery. The show opened Today Friday October 9, 2009. There will be a closing reception on November 8, 2009. This occasion closes not only the exhibit but the actual gallery, which is transitioning from an emerging gallery to.. an opened new beginning full of potential and possibilities? The theme hence revolved around the notion of death and resurrection, a kind of metamorphosis from one state to the next. I was contacted and invited to participate in this very special occasion which definitely appealed to me. The idea of an art gallery being conscious of itself, and creating a form of ritual to celebrate its own death, burial and rebirth was fascinating.
I started working with the concept and very quickly a visual form of this idea came to mind. I wanted to portray a metamorphosis, or emergence. I thought very literally of a cocoon or womb out of which life emerges. Here are some initial concept studies...
I wanted the new life to be vibrant, and so I imagined it as bright blue footprints coming out of a cocoon. To imply a new beginning, this vibrant blue life form would erupt from its old shell, leaving it behind like a shed skin, heading out the exit door.
I then decided that the shell wound not be a coccon but rather a seedpod, so to speak. Instead of bean-shaped I decided to make it spherical. Also, while originally I was going to use my own footprints, it became much more conducive to use my son's. This is the piece as it is now installed.
Today was also the Gala opening of the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination, on Penn Av. I was invited to participate in this as well, maybe since the focus of this first exhibit was in part the work of Irma Freeman herself, and in part the work of artists who work with salvaged, reclaimed and recycled materials. Interestingly enough I made a piece that is also related to emergence, and in fact I called it "Emergence of the POK Man" since it is made out of clay I collected from the Allegheny Cemetery, and depicts a gesturing shaman who has "emerged from the clay". It simbolizes a process by which inert and lifeless matter re-aquires life force, as energy cycles through stages of life and death.
While I will describe this piece in detail in my next post called "Art from scratch", I wanted to mention it here because I think it is interesting that the theme of emergence has come about recursively. Much like in the recent Goddess-themed pieces I made, this was not an intentional or particularly consciouss descicion, but the theme happenned to become predominant at the same time, in two separate works, in accordance to "random" (but really synchronous) external inputs. Looking back at it, it seems all the more interesting to me that the theme of "emergence" came imediately after the birthing-Goddess headspace I got myself into. This is as if first I was dealing with a motherly womb-like thought that grew and has now bloomed into a new life. It almost makes me wonder wether there might be a true form of rebirth happenning in me, in some metaphorical way; in one or another layer of my life. This is an exciting and intimidating thought. What exactly could be emerging in me/from me at this time?
I like to at least entertain the idea, and maybe, the idea itself will then nurture the seeds of a new emergence. Or maybe, this is nothing more than just another step.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Some Goddess is Around...

There has been some Goddess themes running throughout my life, and much of my POK and Mummies artwork references the Metasymbol of Goddess or Empowered Female. At this time, some Goddess artworks came out of me, almost without me intending it.

The Goddess theme happens to reocurr in my studies since, in part, it represents Nature (or Mother Earth) which is one of the most (if not the single most) powerful drivers of my work. I also happen to LOOOOVE women, though by now I have opted for "just" one, hahahah!
She happens to be the Goddess in person.
I was amused years ago when learning that in the history of humanity, Goddess worship is far more extensive chronologically and geographically than God worship (or Sun religions), which came about fairly recently (if we compare in historical time). It is fascinating to learn about how this transition came about, and also the many cultural implications and differences between God/Goddess worshiping cultures.

More interesting, are the archetypal attributes of each, and how their roles and tendencies play out every day in the symbolic/mythic drama of Life.

It is extremely important for me to clarify now that I am no Goddess worshiper. In fact, in what I have learned so far, it could be dangerous to be a Goddess worshiper. But far more dangerous at this time in deed, would be to be a God worshiper! (this is where I offend people and they freak out if they are not opening their minds! But fortunately, very few, and very open-minded folks read this blog, hahahaha). Also consider that the greatest crimes against life and humanity have been -and are being- done in the name of one God or another.

The truth of the matter is that, only the integral balance of the male and female attributes can bring about prosperity for humankind (and consequently earth). This, in fact, was one of the great secrets of the alchemists, called the "alchemical marriage". The very simple idea is that neither element is complete wihout the other, and their attributes need to fuse in order to moderate/activate each other. All of this, to some, is no news, but keep in mind that I write in this blog to bridge a gap rather than to simply reinforce what to some of us is ancient knowledge.
At this time, we suffer from an imbalance that has long been brewing, and is now culminating. It is, obviously, a male-heavy imbalance. this is not a literal statement ("too many guys around") but it is rather a metaphorical one (too much "phallicking around"). The overused MAN energy has brought about war, and more importantly, the very ominous possibility of extinction in the face of over-exploitation of the earth. Take a moment to think about the many symbolic connotations of this exploitation or dismissal of the female attribute in every layer of life...

At this time, feminists would hurray this, but I am no feminist either. I do not believe that women should change to find a role in the world or in society, that is closer to the role of man. I think instead, that society should change to accomodate for the Goddess archetype. For example, instead of having more female business-office women, I think we need less offices and businesses! More love, more art, more freedom, more poetry, more peace, more greenery. Less poking and proving, less empiric gaze, less machinery, less banks and phallic skyscrapers packed with debt, paperwork and policies!

Yikes, I got excited there... shishh...

Anyhow, while I am not a Goddess worshiper, I might as well be one at this time of imbalance, where really, we either talk to the Mother and caress her, or bury ourselves further, in our own over-productive, over-consuming waste. Ultimately, both roles are extremely important, and the need to unite and balance them is key. Did you ever read the book about women from Venus and men from Mars? I didn't, but if it was any good, it probably talked about this, hahahaha.

I did not want to go into this too much, so I really should stop blabbing and get to the point: the
work. So, without planning to at all, I completed two artworks relating to the Goddess this month.

My great friend, who happens to have the business name of "Mother Moonbeam" and who also happens to be one of the most amazing phisical embodiments of the Goddess archetype in all her power, will be giving birth any day now!

I was given a cast that was made of her belly, to paint on. The idea was to paint something significant to the theme of birth and motherhood for her to have a powerful memory of this unique time of her life. I chose to use symbols in a very deliberate way, as always. Here is an image of the belly cast painting as it is done (except for one cleansing step that we will do at a special birthing ceremony). I also made use of my understanding of Sacred Geometry.

Update: Below is the bellycast finished and activated. Mother Moonbeam is in labor right now! (Sat, Sept 26, 12:36am)

First in the center, there is a seed, or sun that represents the origin of life, and the baby (it's a boy!). Around it is the earth layer which represents the community and context in which this seed is conceived and grown. This layer is made with clay that was extracted from Mother Moonbeam's urban community farm called "Healcrest Community Farm". As you may notice, every layer of a power object such as this is tightly connected to the subject (and to a synchronous Universe), which makes the object "activated" and the prayers and intentions set into it are then succesfully delivered to the physical plane. From the seed stems a three-armed spiral or Triskelion, which I chose as a multilayered symbol. Every three months the orbit of the sun traces a spiral. So in one layer, this is a sun symbol. But three spirals make a period of nine months, conveying the process of pregnancy, thus integrating male and female attributes into one. From the seed grows a tree, representing of many things including growth, prosperity and life force; and roots, which anchor this life-force to the Earth. A powerful moon hovers to simbolize the Goddess (which my friend is quite fond of...) and from it comes a drop of "Moon Milk" simbolizing abundance, rain, fertility and of course, the ever-nurturing mother's milk. It is a work that hopes to embody and materialize the eternal cycle and power of Motherhood, in its most Goddessly sense...

The second artwork I want to share, also very related to all these attributes, came as a response to a call for artists of the Visionary Arts Festival for a show called G-Spot, a response show to the meeting of the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. The work had to be "sexy".

So again, I thought this was a great opportunity for the Goddess to appear, since: who else is better suited to respond to the Phallic nature of the G-20 summit? and plus, who could be more sexy than the Goddess herself?

Since this time the Goddess atribute was not quite the motherly side but the sexy side, the tone is much different, and I will post it on a clickable link just because sometimes younger peeps see my blog (and their parents might be frightened by the power of certain female features, here "enhanced" hahahah). So here she is: GODDESS and another image of her.

This large drawing is 35 by 55 inches and done using Walnut ink on paper. In this image the ink is still wet...

If you happen to be reading this in time, you could see the actual piece being shown at FE Gallery in Lawrenceville, along with other visionarilly-raunchy artworks, for the opening of "G-spot" on Thursday September 24 at 7pm.

There, we might meet, and talk more about the many things I do not dare say publicly ;)

Look for the skinny guy with long messy dreads and utter to him the secret password:
"I walk in spirals towards the rising Sun" to which I will respond "Do not forget the Moon gives light when the sun does not" to which you will respond with any remark or comment whatsoever, which should fruitfully spark a wonderful conversation, maybe even a heated one.

Sept 22, 2009