Arts / Galleries

Women In Craft Take Centerstage in Houston — Smokey Memory and The Land of the Flowers Leave Deep Impressions

Two Female Artists Use Unique, Time-Honored Techniques

BY // 07.27.23

Craft and ceramics made by female artists are getting a new spotlight. “The Land of the Flowers” from San Marcos-based artist Gabo Martinez at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft and “Smokey Memory” from Dallas-based Nadia Rosales at Lone Gallery in Dallas are two special and unique collections of pots and sculptures. Combining heritage, technique and just a bit of luck, these carefully crafted works are something of a must-see.

“Smokey Memory” features a series of pots fired with the Raku technique, a traditional Japanese method that uses combustible materials to leave marks and designs on the pottery. After firing the pots in a kiln, Rosales removes them and places the materials on while the pots are still hot, causing them to burn up and leave behind spiderwebs of soot black marks.

Rosales uses horsehair, sugar and human hair, incorporating both her daughter’s hair and her own, to strengthen the theme of familial relationships and community in her work.

Nadia Rosales's "Holding On," 2023 (Photo courtesy of {neighborhood}/Lone Gallery)
Nadia Rosales’s “Holding On,” 2023 at Lone Gallery in Dallas (Photo courtesy of {neighborhood}/Lone Gallery)

Once the pots are placed in the kiln, the artist has no control over the ultimate outcome of the work. They may crack. The glaze chemistry might be off. Or the patterns might change.

“It’s such a volatile process,” Rosales tells PaperCity. “It’s just letting go of that and really meditating on these material processes and, at a smaller level. . . having that also apply to my life in general.”

Rather than hiding the unexpected cracks, Rosales highlights them by filling them in with 18K gold, turning the “mistakes” into beautiful focal points. 

Each pot features a design that she carved into a layer of slip or underglaze, which, after firing, leaves behind a negative image — a technique known as sgraffito. The designs are reminiscent of traditional tattooing practices and feature cultural themes inspired by Rosales’ Mexican and Persian heritage. There are images of skulls, women, animals and nature. Each carving is unique and beautifully simple. 

“I think a lot of my work and what drew me into pottery is this idea of craft and folk tradition within craft,” Rosales says. “I’m very drawn to the ways in which everyone has added to these traditions and how it’s a collective project.” 

Gabo Martinez’s “The Land of the Flowers” is also representative of her cultural heritage and relationship with craft. The collection explores and honors indigeneity, joy and inclusivity, serving as an avenue for Martinez to claim space in the ceramics community for herself and other artists of color who have been excluded. The work is intentionally vibrant and bold, featuring bright yellow as the standout color. 

Gallery view of Gabo Martinez's “The Land of Flowers” at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (Photo by Katy Anderson)
Gallery view of Gabo Martinez’s “The Land of Flowers” at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (Photo by Katy Anderson)

“I see color as very emotive,” Martinez says. “The intention is for (my work) to be charged with energy. I want to create these spaces that are reminiscent of that energy that I embody. And a lot of it comes from growing up and going to Mexico, which has a very colorful, very rich culture.” 

Named for xochitlalpan — the Nahuatl word describing a mystical land of flowers or floral paradise — the collection calls back to the prehispanic cultures of Mexico, prior to the colonization and erasure of many indigenous populations. Multiple pieces feature a repeating flower motif, carved into the pottery or printed repeatedly in yellow on a large, hanging banner. 

Like Rosales’ work, the carvings are made with the sgraffito technique, though the end result is completely different. Martinez uses terracotta for her pots, which ties back to her connection with Mexico and the natural deposits of terracotta clay found in her hometown. 

Her material choice is also an intentional disruption of the unspoken hierarchy in the ceramics community.

 “I realized that, in academia and within the clay community, there are these hierarchies where porcelain and stoneware are seen as something higher than terracotta,” Martinez says. “One of my goals with this show and when choosing to be intentional with the materials I use is elevating the red clay.”

Gabo Martinez holding “Twelve Eyes Platter” (inside view), 2023. Background: “Yellow Bloom Print,” 2021. (Photo courtesy the artist)
Gabo Martinez holding “Twelve Eyes Platter” (inside view), 2023. Background: “Yellow Bloom Print,” 2021. (Photo courtesy the artist)

These two shows are representative of an effort within the ceramics community to diversify the stories, materials and traditions that are valued and represented by both artists and collectors. By tapping into their cultural experiences and honoring the traditions that came before them, Martinez and Rosales have created beautifully authentic collections that will leave viewers inspired and appreciative of the deep dedication required to produce such artwork. 

Gabo Martinez’s “The Land of the Flowers” is on view at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft through September 9. Admission is free and open to the public with it open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 am to 5 pm. Nadia Rosales’s work was previously shown at the Lone Gallery in Dallas and is available for purchase via the {neighborhood} website.

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