Somewhere ceramist Ralph Bacerra is smiling, says Jo Lauria, curator of "Ralph Bacerra: Exquisite Beauty" at the Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College of Art and Design in L.A.
When Bacerra died in 2008 at age 70, he was well known in design circles but under-recognized elsewhere. Lauria says that's slowly changing as more people begin to appreciate his legacy, which was to contemporize and popularize the use of overglaze enamels. These fire at a low heat and allow for extremely saturated color. The layering technique, which Bacerra picked up during extensive travels in Asia, had been neglected for most of the 20th century by American art schools, Lauria said.
"Ralph was interested in the design aspect of pattern making," said Lauria, a graduate student of Bacerra's at Otis in the late 1980s. "He studied Kandinsky and M.C. Escher and came up with a very iconic and signature patterning of his own, which is distinctively Bacerra."
Bacerra had two mantras: "know your materials" and "pattern follows form." He was concerned with pure artistry, and he said that when an object was finished, it should be exquisitely beautiful, like an ornament. Hence, his use of the metallic luster of gold, platinum and silver, which ceramists didn't commonly use in the early 1980s, when Bacerra was getting started with the technique.
Bacerra's thoughts on loveliness guided Lauria as she curated the 90-piece show.
"I don't consider it a true retrospective," she says of the Otis show, which runs through Dec. 6. "To do that, I would want to cover his entire 45-year career, and instead I took a theme and concentrated on the mature part of his career, when he began to ornament his work and make it very jewel-like and complex."