This thesis explores the introduction of Virgil Ortiz’s traditional Cochiti pueblo ceramic techniques and iconic imagery into the world of contemporary atmospheric high fired ceramics. Virgil is a multidimensional artist who has been working in ceramics since the age of 12, practicing the traditional hand building and decoration methods of his ancestral pueblo (1 traditional work) . In recent years, Virgil has begun to explore the use of modern materials and firing techniques in order to further his work and break into the contemporary ceramics community (2 modern materials). Virgil’s style is very figurative, sculpting human and human-like figures, and illustrating large vessels in the Cochiti traditional style, while incorporating his own characters, story lines and social commentaries.
Virgil and I met in 2019 while Virgil was performing a ceramics demo at the ASU Ceramics facilities. We collaborated on Virgil’s first line of completely handmade functional wares for his collaborative show at the ReVOlt gallery for Indian Market, Santa Fe 2019. In 2020, Virgil came to ASU as a visiting artist faculty and began work on larger pieces using more sculptural clays and exploring internal support structures under the guidance of myself and artist Ben Jackel. Seeing this large work and the opportunity to build on this, renowned art critic and appraiser Peter Held brought myself and Virgil to Reitz Ranch Center for Ceramic Arts, the former studio and home of Don Reitz. Don was an American master, building huge vessels and sculptures and firing them in salt, soda and wood kilns built on his property. He built a particularly larger Anagama style kiln, deemed the Reitz-agama, which measures 60in tall and 30 feet deep, specifically to be able to wood fire his massive wares. Don’s work is visceral and emotional, made with a heavy hand and minimally glazed, allowing for the buildup of wood ash and salt from the atmospheric firings to complete their surfaces. The ranch still holds all of his kilns, and hundreds of his pieces from years of success and failures. The owner of the ranch Sheryl Leigh-Devault, and Don’s former assistant Ben Roti, invited Virgil and I up to work at the ranch any time we wanted during this visit, and due to the closures of ASU studios and a desire to push our work together further than we ever had before, we orchestrated a week visit. This week visit developed into two weeks, and had since developed further into a one and a half month short term quarantine residency.