Artist Spotlight: Guillermo Guardia

Guillermo Guardia is a relatively recent addition to the alchemy of ceramic artists in the Twin Cities and NCC has been delighted to have his talents represented on our teaching roster, in the sales gallery, and as a 2018 American Pottery Festival artist. Guardia creates colorful figures and functional wares emblazoned with glyphs representing his Peruvian and Japanese heritage. Born in Peru, he has lived in the US since 2002 and remains in active pursuit of his artistic endeavors throughout his life journey. 

“Since I was a little kid I was interested in clay. Modeling clay was my favorite toy.”

Guardia’s parents supported his pursuit of a sculpture degree, but his own pragmatism shifted his focus to industrial design as he neared graduation and began to consider the ramifications of making a living as an artist. Now, prepare yourself, this is where Guardia’s story will become familiar to many, “My last elective was ceramics and I got ‘hooked’.”

Wanting to learn more about the medium, he traveled to Grand Forks, ND to study ceramics at the University of North Dakota. Here, Guardia began approaching ceramics as a serious form of art. 

His artwork explores political, social, and personal issues. His ideas and statements are shaped by personal experiences, events, and places he has lived. He sees four distinct bodies of work in his oeuvre: Puzzle Sculptures, Baby Devils, Immigration, and most recently, he is working on a series about the meaning of home, developed through memories of his childhood. 

In most of his work, Guardia uses the human body as a vessel for the content of his conversations and investigations. Numerous anatomy art classes in Peru informed his later studies in clay. ”We learned the human body structure, proportions, and how it moves. 

Because of those foundations classes I feel very comfortable depicting and interpreting the human body.” The stylized, dynamic postures and aggressively expressive countenances of his figures are proof of his facility. It has been interesting to watch him translate all of these experiences into utilitarian ceramic wares. 

What follows is a little Q & A, as we learn more about this fascinating artist who works in the Schmidt Artist Lofts in Saint Paul.

NCC: What artwork influences your practice? 
GG: I have always admired Renaissance art, and in recent years I also perceive a stronger connection of my art with ancient pre-Columbian cultures like Mochica, Wari, or Inca; and to my Japanese heritage (my maternal grandfather was Japanese).  

NCC: How do you supplement your artistic practice?
GG: After graduation I was fortunate the North Dakota Museum of Art (NDMOA) offered me a job as resident artist, which allowed me to stay in the country working in the arts. I worked for NDMOA from 2009 to 2014. Part of my duties included teaching workshops and summer art classes. I used to travel to small ND towns to teach ceramics as part of NDMOA’s rural art program. The ceramics residencies reached K-12, college students, adult community classes and nursing homes. It took 5 years to obtain my permanent resident status, and then I decided to work independently as a studio artist. Now I continue to supplement my practice by teaching workshops and summer art camps, residencies and grants. 

NCC: What do you love most about making your work?
GG: My freedom to decide what to make. The freedom to create my own ideas.

NCC: What is the hardest part about making your work?
GG: Perhaps, in the beginning, it was the rejection letters when applying for exhibits. They were frustrating, but also stimulating in the way that it pushed me to improve my work and set my mind into getting accepted into particular exhibits, which were very competitive. I wanted to prove to others and myself my work is up to that level. Eventually I got accepted in those exhibits. This helped me grow confidence as an artist. Also, any day that I’m not in the studio is hard. I feel the best when working in the studio. 

NCC: What art do you look at for eye candy?
GG: Lately I look at other ceramic artists’ pottery. Since I started making pottery as part of my artwork, I began analyzing pottery every chance I can: in the studio, galleries (NCC), retail stores etc. I look at the form, function, glazes, graphics, ergonomics, etc.

Visiting Mia is stimulating--walking for hours looking at historical classical paintings and sculptures is a pleasure. I also enjoy the Walker and the sculpture garden. When I go to Peru (try to make it once a year), I plan to visit historical pre-Colombian sites or museums where pre-Colombian art or artifacts are on display.

NCC: What do you see as your biggest achievement so far?
GG: Making a living from my art. 

NCC: What are your future goals?
GG: I am new in the Metro Area. I feel my artwork is changing because of the new location and the current political and social turmoil. It is exciting to know my work will change, but at the same time, I am uncertain how the change will materialize. 

I want to experiment more with indoor and outdoor installations; installations that deal with social issues such as immigration. My constant goal as an artist is for my work to be seen. I want to show my artwork in any and all venues possible in the Twin Cities, and eventually, in the whole country. Ultimately I want to make artwork until the last day of my life.

NCC: What are you excited about right now, beyond art?
GG: Right now, the World Cup, hahaha! It is the first time in 36 years that Peru qualified to the World Cup hosted this year in Russia. It has been a great deal for the whole country.