This week I met with Jennifer Datchuk and Ryan Takaba (above), and between all of us we talked about how their family histories are inevitably intertwined with their work in very specific ways. Jennifer shared her very personal issues of identity, and how her mixed-Asian heritage manifests strongly in her work, and that her medium of ceramic is a deliberate choice within this issue of identity and specific cultural history. Jennifer explained that ceramics has a history of perfection and beauty, much like the assumed definition of the traditional nuclear family. Yet her mixed-Asian roots never allowed for such nuclear perfection, and rather, she grew up constantly answering questions, then questioning her own identity. Jennifer's combination of medium and content mixes exquisite skill and production of thought that makes for both stunning and deeply interesting work.
The same was obviously more than true for Ryan Takaba. On first glance his work is clean, minimal, and some could describe as sterile. Yet his ceramics are made so precisely that when I inquired about a random cardboard box full of perfect ceramic pieces, he explained to me that they were his failed studies. I had a hard time believing it. Ryan went on to explain that each of his pieces is so carefully thought crafted and technically designed in order to create the specific movement that he wants. Ryan's work is a series of bulbous little ceramic pieces, barely bigger than the palm of my hand. Each is crafted with precisely positioned holes that hold either a tiny bright green flower, or allow for the flow of painstakingly slow drops of water to fall from one ceramic piece to the flower in the next ceramic piece. The ceramic pieces hang in cloud-like formations, and each determines the longevity of the life of the respective flower in its neighboring ceramic piece. As one drop of water slowly falls from one piece, it is caught by the ceramic cloud that hangs closest, whatever is not absorbed by the flower sitting in that piece forms another drop that then dribbles on to the next combination of flower/cloud. It's a remarkable process; a test in patience and ritual, and to catch that little flower at the height of its green bloom is a rewarding feat.
I went on to have a glass of wine in Jimmy James Canales’ studio. Jimmy talked me through his trajectory, how he had come up with the hairbrained ideas he had for his thesis show, and how each project built onto the next one. We talked about the Mapache Man, and we talked about his legendary walk through the city of San Antonio. With Jimmy the issue of folklore and legend came up multiple times, and this is where the crux of his work has been: he has positioned himself as a native of San Antonio to be a cultural character within the art world who is a legend in the city. Jimmy has created folklore and brought it to life, and even conducted endurance performance pieces while doing so.
I met with Ruth Buentello, the final of the four members of the Más Rudas collective, and one of the most memorable studio visits I have had in my career. Ruth honed in on a point that should be mentioned. While she pulled out multiple finished paintings, one that was in process, and multiple ideas and sketches, she was perfectly clear about her own moment of transition and her personal need to grow and constantly challenge herself as an artist. I spent the better part of the hour talking with her about ideas, and generally about the lack of conversation that exists in our world. Ruth is no doubt a talented artist, but what makes her great is her willingness to jump into that transition and always question, thus always growing as an artist.
Challenges come from looking, listening, and questioning. Ruth reminded me to always appreciate this cycle, and to always challenge myself whenever complacency becomes comfortable.