Jonathan Christensen Caballero, Lawrence, Kansas
Ceramics Monthly: What techniques do you use to make your work and why?
Jonathan Christensen Caballero: My figurative sculptures are made with a number of materials including red earthenware, secondhand fibers, readymade objects, building materials, indigo, metal, and wood. My ceramic practice begins with life castings from family members and friends. These castings are then made into press molds of their faces and hands. I handbuild the figures’ necks, heads, and hair by using soft slabs and coils. At this point they have little emotion or gesture, so I model the sculptures’ expressions and articulate their posture to fit their narratives. I enjoy using life castings because they close the gap between the people I hope to represent and the clay. I have plans to expand my library of life-casting molds with more Latinx people once the pandemic is under control and we can safely gather together again.
My work began as a way to communicate some of the struggles my family has faced, yet I know my experience is similar to that of many other people. I want my sculptures not to focus on me, but instead on what we must overcome.
CM: What do you think the role of a maker is within our current culture and how do you think you contribute to it?
JCC: History is embedded in every material used to create art, so it is my role as a maker to choose each material thoughtfully and with purpose. Each material I select forms another layer of symbolism and narrates a scene in the life of a Latin American immigrant who provides for their children through labor. Through my art, I hope to be part of the change I want to see in the world. It is a moral imperative for Latin Americans to be celebrated as part of the fabric of US society. Our bodies aren’t solely destined for labor, but also love, joy, and acceptance.
Over the past year, many previously low-status laborers have been recast as essential workers. The pandemic has emphasized the divide between those who are unable to physically distance at work and those who can safely work from home. I feel proud of the strength that essential workers demonstrate to feed and heal, as well as clean and care for the people of this country; I am frustrated by their lack of protections against the pandemic. For me, the struggle of the laborer is profound because it is personal. My mother is and was essential. She was essential to feed the children of her school district this past year, and she is essential to our family. Will her and other essential workers’ newly acquired importance remain in place when the pandemic is over?
To learn more, visit www.jcc-sculpture.com.