Pushing Boundaries at Clay Art Center


When I first met Jose nearly two years ago his sincerity and the sense of something burgeoning just below the surface left a big impression on me.  Now after his year-long residency that “something” has become a steely and colorful force that drives him to create ceramic artwork about identity and sexuality.

Jose is part of a unique residency program, funded by the Westchester Community Foundation, that provides opportunities for emerging young artists interested in developing teaching skills and giving back to the community.  With the culmination of his residency and his exhibition on display until July 15th, Jose shares some thoughts on his experience at Clay Art Center, his personal and artistic development and how important it is to share through the arts.

Q.Do you see a progression in your artwork since the beginning of your residency?
Jose: I think everything I made has a purpose. Someone in the beginning of my residency told me that the process is important and not to throw anything away. That helped me to see how things grew from the beginning and helped me get to the body of work I created today. Coming to Clay Art Center I felt so lost and out of place, I felt like my work was still awkward. Clay Art Center has given me a place and a deep appreciation for clay. It has also helped me to rediscover how much I love to draw.

Q: What does the work in this exhibition mean to you?
Jose:One of my mentors told me “Stop pretending art is hard” which is a lyric from a song that I listen to a lot now. That helped me to think about why I was making these sculptures. My work really became the story of my identity and how much it has changed in this past year. In 2015 I came out to my family and left my religion as a Jehovah’s Witness. The artwork I made became a way to share this experience with my family and the people important to me. I am who I am and I’m proud of that.

Q: Do you think this is especially important after the tragedy that has just happened in Orlando?
Jose: Yes definitely, that really has taught me the value of life and to really live each day like it’s your last. And, like making this artwork, not to let fear keep you from continuing to live your life.

Q: What are some reactions viewers have had to your work?
Jose: During the opening an older man I had never met approached me and asked me about the work.He asked “Why do you have to let the world know about this, it isn’t anyone’s business?” After I explained why it was important he gave me a hug and thanked me. It made me realize that there is kindness out there even from total strangers. It is so hard putting yourself out there, the whole time I was making the work I was thinking about how people would see it. At the same time, who cares, it is what I want to make and that has really freed me. This body of work gave me purpose and made me feel more accomplished than I have felt in a long time.

Q: You mentioned your mentors, was that an important part of your residency?
I had a lot of mentors. I think the studio manager Rob Zili has really helped to guide me this year. I had a late start in ceramics and didn’t really know what it meant to be an artist. He would leave me sticky notes in my space and we would have conversations that helped me develop a deeper idea of what this means. It also helped me realize that there is someone there behind me and that I still need support and that is okay. Everyone has been such a great guide, not just about art but about my life and where I am going.

Q: What is next for you?
Jose: I really want to continue teaching community arts classes. I have also applied to be a flight attendant at my job at the Westchester County airport. I really want to travel and see the world so that I can expand how I work and make art.

Come and see Jose’s work and share his experiences at Clay Art Center now through July 15th in the main classroom.

This residency is funded through the Emily and Harold E. Valentine and Evelyn Gable Clark Scholarship Fund of Westchester Community Foundation.