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Student Spotlight: Arturo Vazquez

Mar 9, 2016
Spotlight Category: Student

Arturo Vazquez came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was two years old. In order to give him a better education, his parents moved the family from Compton to Whittier and it was later, at Rio Hondo Community College that Arturo would meet his mentor, ceramics professor, and Otis alumnus, Robert Miller. Initially studying in Product Design, the current Fine Arts sophomore is minoring in Art History and Contemporary Clay and has recently been awarded a scholarship from the American Ceramics Society: Design Chapter.


How did you get into ceramics?

My parents told me I needed to get a job. At first, I was interested in being a social worker, similar to the work that my mother does for the County. I was pursuing my degree at Rio Hondo and originally took ceramics to fulfill a requirement. I didn’t like the class, and I didn’t take it seriously, but I still had another semester to go. That’s when Robert Miller told me that the advanced students could come into the studio whenever they wanted; there would always be a seat for them. I decided to really apply myself and I ended up loving it. I participated in the Holiday Arts show that year and made $500 just off my smaller work. From that, I bought my first potter's wheel and was able to start taking on small commissions from family, friends, and other people who heard about me through word-of-mouth. Once I started throwing pots, I quit my job at Target to work as a production potter in an artist’s studio.

Ever since then, my skill has been growing. I’ve been doing production pottery for about four years, working for five different potters in LA County, and I’ve thrown over 20,000 pots for production alone. I’ve been building up my studio and I want to start my own line. Production pottery is very mass-produced, and now that I’ve been studying at Otis, working on assignments for weeks at a time, I want to create more significant pieces. I want to become more personal with my work and push the envelope with different mediums.


What brought you to Otis?

I found out about Otis two or three years ago. My ceramics instructor at the time, Robert Miller, knew I love art history and really encouraged me. Around the same time I met my girlfriend Danielle, who’s also an artist, and she was so driven and really inspired me. Before I didn’t have the confidence to pursue an art career, but they both pushed me to change my major and start showing my work. Robert took me to Otis for an event where I was able to meet people in Product Design and Fine Arts, and I thought – this school is badass. The students took their work seriously, and the critiques are no joke – it made me realize that this was what I needed to help me grow. I don’t think you can be a successful artist or grow personally without being able to handle constructive criticism of your work.

I visited a lot of schools to check out their studios and talk to students; some of the schools said I couldn’t meet their instructors, or the studios weren’t clean. When I visited Otis, Michael Kollins from Product Design took me on right away, gave me a tour and was very positive. After that I knew this is where I wanted to go, I love how small it is, and how much attention is given to every student, and how strong the work is here compared to other programs. There’s also the wood and metal shop, 3D printers, all the software that I’m learning – I would never have thought I would work in Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign. Product Design really showed me these tools that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.

Otis pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. And now that I’ve tried new things I can come back to ceramics and apply it. This table (Compound, 2016) I designed, I used ceramics, but I also weaved it with leather and used walnut wood, refurbishing all this material. It is awesome to see work that I would have never done if I went to another program. Otis is a gem; I wish more people knew about it.


What is it about ceramics as a medium that you love?

I am stuck on clay right now- I know it inside and out. It is the only thing that has inspired me to do art since I was a kid. It was just natural for me to get on a potter’s wheel. In ceramics it was very easy for me to see the progress, I could turn out a lot of pieces, I could make money in a short amount of time, and I could express myself. Even though it was a pain in the beginning, like anything else, if you stick with it- good things start happening.

Handmade objects are some of the most important things we have. My parents were do-it-yourself type people, they taught me to be self-sufficient and apply myself. When I saw ceramics being handmade it made me appreciate the craft, not just that it is a nice cup or vase, but seeing the skill, time, and individuality it takes to produce that piece. Art is one of the few careers that you get to put all your emotion into it and use your senses. When you are firing a kiln, you have to be able to smell the reduction and the wax burning off, when you are working on the wheel and feeling the pressure and seeing the form, you have to hear the wheel and understand the speed that is needed- it's all about the senses.

It really hit me that this is what I wanted to do when I was working at Handjive Pottery. There are guys there that have been doing ceramics for 40 years, and I’m just a kid that has been doing it for 3. They produce 200 pots a day and at first, it took me two months to make one successful pot. That made me appreciate craftsmanship and attention to detail. Working with them, they are some of the best teachers I’ve ever had, and they pushed me to be able to gain that skill. From making one pot to then four months later, I was making 150 pots a day. Now I want to do this forever; I want to be an instructor and teach ceramics.

At Otis, I am working with all of these great instructors like Joan (Takayama-Ogawa), and there is this legacy to continue. She is a third generation potter who is teaching me the skills and techniques used by ceramicists like Ralph Bacerra. For her to share that knowledge, pass it down, that’s something I want to do. I want to teach and take someone under my wing and show them that they could do it.

When I used to compare myself to others, my grandfather would say – “What do they have? Do they have an extra hand, an extra eye, what do they have that you don’t? That person has nothing above you. You were both born on this earth – you need to make opportunities for yourself.” All of the opportunities that I have, from Joan or Meg (Cranston) or Robert, I am forever grateful. They want to see me not just making art, but using my voice to say something important to me and to create change in our world.

You were recently awarded a scholarship from the American Ceramics Society: Design Chapter, how did you find out about the scholarship and what does it mean to you?

Joan saw my work and told me to apply for the scholarship, she even wrote me a beautiful letter of recommendation. No one has ever written a letter of recommendation for me, it meant a lot. The time that she took out of her day to acknowledge me, I didn’t think I was that important. Getting the scholarship and receiving so much support from so many people has given me the confidence I needed. Now I’m focusing on building a body of work, I want to show at different events, and get my studio functioning. My goal is to become more independent, to make a living from my skill, to create my own collections, and go to graduate school- I definitely want to teach and become a professor.


To keep up with Arturo's work, follow him on instagram.