On Thursday, May 2, ceramic artist Diego Romero visited the Hopkins Center Ceramics Studio to demonstrate some of his craft to students. Romero showed us his mastery of hand building a vessel and burnishing another with terra sigillata, a super fine clay that produces a high gloss surface. He quietly explained his process to a circle of observers. From time to time, we asked questions, which he answered haltingly, distracted by the work in progress in his hands, but generously. His wife, the well-known photographer Cara Romero, contributed with her insights from time to time.
Diego Romero blends conceptions of tradition and modernity in his ceramics. Mutual Art describes Romero as “ a chameleon—an urban hipster,” a graduate from the Fine Arts program at UCLA who grew up reading comic books in Berkeley, CA. While Romero is of Pueblo heritage and skilled at Native pottery techniques, his repertoire expands beyond his heritage, and necessarily so. An “urban Native,” Romero says, “I didn’t want to use sacred imagery out of respect for my tribe, so I was forced to develop other alternatives…I’m attracted to the narrative of Greek pottery; they elevated the hero to a superhero.” Indeed, narrative plays a big role in Romero’s pots, on the insides of which he paints cartoony figures and characters “as his way of relating the contemporary to the ancient” (King Galleries). The Greek heroes of Romero’s artistic universe are the Chongo brothers, described by Mutual Art as Natives who drink in bars, fly through outer space, and dance with the coyotes in the desert. The Chongo brothers are symbol, but also alter-ego and self-representation.
Romero’s care for the ancient form of the pots onto which he paints characters living in the contemporary and future world was apparent during the demonstration. A large pot, he said, took a whole day to burnish and couldn’t be stepped away from once started. He spoke to the physical toll it took to handle a large pot for hours without being able to take breaks, and advised us to start small.
Diego Romero was invited to Dartmouth by the Hood Museum of Art, where one of his pieces can be viewed. True to his interest in finding an artistic vocabulary that engages both the present and the past, this piece, “Pod Mound,”features cartoon figures flailing on a mound of gigantic iPods.