When I mention Gustavo Pérez’s name, people ask me who he is. And, it may be this way in some cases, but some I assume should be aware of him.
The matter in question is ridiculous: Gustavo Pérez is one of our greatest artists. Several things explain this lack of awareness, but perhaps the most important is simply that Gustavo Pérez is a ceramist. We cannot entirely blame the public: ceramics is a field in which the boundaries between a “minor art” and simply Art are particularly obscured. Gustavo always emphasizes his position as an artisan; a great artisan, I might add, a wise and creative technician.
Faithful to this calling, delighted with the craftsmanship of his work, with working on his potter’s wheel, with the skilled production of paper thin vessels, with obsessive details on his pots, plates and bowls, Pérez continues to produce magnificent utilitarian objects and I believe he will never stop making them. I have the impression that for him it is a moral imperative—Gustavo is profoundly concerned with ethical questions— giving minute magnificence to the everyday.
Splendor, yes, and beauty; Gustavo has discovered how an incised line on a clay wall can open up when pressed from inside, like an amazing feminine genitalia. His undulating vessels, furrowed with an endless variety of lines, his indispensable style, his ceaseless questioning of textures and high-temperature glazes, his status as a tireless artisan, inventive and inquiring, has brought new luster to this country’s diminished ancestry of old ceramists.
Almost grudgingly and, almost under protest —fortunately of course!—Gustavo proved himself capable of avoiding all those trends and discoveries gaining autonomy and emerging in pieces in which pure creativity with the medium was the raison d’être; here the highest form of Art seizes the stage.
Entering Gustavo Pérez’s studio, in his Coatepequean paradise, is like entering a laboratory of contemplation and play. On high shelves clean and arranged, sit the “drafts” from which this amazing artist must mine his finished pieces. Occasionally, the objects are no bigger than two or three centimeters: the clay is compressed, hollowed out, pulled, and woven into intricate three-dimensional spider webs. A pinch of the clay can bring about astonishing results, as long as Gustavo Pérez himself makes the modification. The clay of these diminutive objects is like pollen that carries the promise of mature trees. Gustavo’s ceramic sculptures proudly respect the dictates of his primary material: they can be formed only from mud. The naturalness of his crinkles, the bands that form them, his smooth or granular surfaces, irregularly or neatly covered with projections and recesses, everything speaks to the artists’ understanding and absolute respect for his means of expression. Sometimes, a traditionally turned vessel breaks, it frays, it twists or it is repaired and this transformation takes us from the cupboard to the museum, without impeding it from belonging to the cupboard. With these useless (or unusable) pieces, Gustavo changes them into an exceptional standard- bearer of recent Mexican sculpture.
In many of his pieces, Gustavo Pérez delights—with a Benedictine patience—in covering the surfaces with lovely, multicolor and complex designs. The firmness of his lines startles us with their grace, delicacy and variety. The clay is carpeted with scarifications, with irregular and segmented lines, with polychromy and fascinating rhythms. And, he delights in the geometry that transforms itself into stars and constellations that appear to move in the festive air which would have pleased Paul Klee and Joan Miró, I think.
Sometimes, bases are simple ceramic plates, isolated or multiples: they are truly paintings, pictorial works (or drawings or monotypic engravings) in clay. At other times the base is rolled up and holds itself, or acquires other more complicated shapes. The naturalness (again that word) with which the artisans’ work melds with sculptural form and the pictorial surface is admirable. The “expressive integration”, so diligently sought after in other times by our muralists, here has a radical and unusual manifestation.
His recent exposition at the Museum of Modern Art, for example, demonstrates all the resources and talent of an artist in his prime. His best is there as always, but he saved new things for us: multiple piece reliefs or straightforward superimposed ones stretching along the walls and the floor, entwined chains and unusual progressions, the precise delicateness of a material that seems to envelope us in its arms, pieces that are enjoyed in different ways when looking at them from close up and far away, when touching them, and making them ours. And, the technique, as it should be, is always in the service of poetry.
We are in the presence of an “artisan” on the one hand, and on the other, one of our finest, most original and heartfelt painters and sculptors. There it is and you must see it.