Renowned ceramist Ralph Bacerra passed away on June 10, 2008 at his home in Eagle Rock. He was a long time member of the Otis Community, chairing the Ceramics program from 1983 to 1996. His Los Angeles Times obituary included the following quote in reference to his piece Teapot (part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum collection): “The piece was not created to brew tea but to be enjoyed as a purely visual and tactile experience...” Long represented by Frank Lloyd Gallery, Bacerra made work to be enjoyed rather than analyzed. In an interview for the Smithsonian oral history project he said, “I am not making any statements—social, political, conceptual, or even intellectual. There is no meaning or metaphor. I am committed more to the idea of pure beauty. When it is finished, the piece, should be like an ornament, exquisitely beautiful.”1
Apart from his own words, the idea was probably best described in a 1999 New York Times review by Ken Johnson—“To look at Ralph Bacerra's gorgeous ceramic vessels is to wallow in visual hedonism. Mr. Bacerra, an immensely skilled craftsman based in Los Angeles, does not try to express any important meaning, social, psychological, philosophical or otherwise. His works are witty and sophisticated in their manipulation of influences ranging from Japanese to early modernist to Pop, but mainly he wants to delight the eyes of his viewers.”
Art is What I Do: The Life of Ralph Bacerra, a film by Jo Lauria (’90), was produced by The Boardman Family Foundation in cooperation with Otis. Lois and Bob Boardman are longtime friends of Ralph Bacerra and collectors of his work.
As a one-time graduate student, a longstanding friend, and a life-long admirer of Ralph Bacerra, I wanted to pursue making this film to document Ralph's life. Viewed through the eyes of those who knew him, and heard through the voices of those strongly compelled to speak, this portrait presents the man, the mentor, the artist whose light burned brightly and its brilliancy shone through his spectacular ceramics. Film is the medium that lives both in the moment and perpetually. This documentary on Ralph Bacerra evokes memories of a life that did not last long enough, and celebrates a legacy that will last forever.
—Jo Lauria (’90)
Thanks to family, friends, gallery owners, museum directors, curators, collectors, colleagues, and former students of Ralph Bacerra who kindly agreed to be interviewed for the film.