Jorge Castillo Balbuena
The colorful ceramic sculpture of Puebla, Mexico-based artisan Jorge Castillo Balbuena appear whimsical at first glance, but a deeper look shows the breathtaking amount of technical skill they require. As a fifth-generation artist, Balbuena learned his creative practice from a young age, under the watchful tutelage of his father.
The making process is an intensive one. It begins with the harvesting of clay, extracted with shovels and picks. The clay is then broken apart and any rocks or impurities are removed with a series of ever-finer nets and screens. The resulting material is thick, but fine in texture—an ideal consistency Balbuena has worked hard to perfect. Clay is sculpted into any number of forms, from turtles to flowers to mermaids, using handmade modeling tools and objects like animal bones and reeds. Next, the pieces are placed in a traditional wood-fired oven. Once baked and cooled, they are polished and painted with both acrylic and aniline paints. Finally, the artist decides between a matte or shiny finish.
The staggering range of items produced by Balbuena includes sacred “Tree of Life” incense burners, as well as ceramic skulls adorned with rainbow-hued butterflies. This type of pottery has origins in Mixtec culture, but was also influenced by outsiders; when the Spaniards arrived in Mexico hundreds of years ago, new artforms, which mixed pre-Hispanic art with European influences, sprang to life. Today, Balbuena travels extensively to share his creativity with others in the form of workshops, live demonstrations, and lectures.