Grand Forks Herald


By Jasmine Maki
Friday, September 27, 2013


At first glance, Guillermo Guardia’s plump ceramic babies with devil horns, look intimidating, almost frightening, but with further inspection one can see that the pieces of art are a response to war and politics.

A baby devil titled “Alan Damian” wears a red and white Peruvian sash and holds a wad of cash behind his back as he appears to be giving a speech, his nose long, resembling Pinocchio’s.

Guardia said his ceramic sculpture makes a specific reference to Alan Garcia, who was Peru’s president from 1980 to 1985, when the Peruvian economy collapsed. Guardia said Garcia’s government was corrupt, and violence in the country escalated during his term.

“Alan Damian” is one of many pieces that express Guardia’s view toward politics. Guardia said the pieces, which are in the North Dakota Museum of Art’s permanent collection, are a response to the war in Iraq and the war in Peru during the 1980s and ’90s.

Guardia, a native of Lima, Peru, moved to North Dakota in 2002 to study ceramics at UND. He earned two degrees: a Master of Fine Arts in ceramics in 2005 and a Master of Science in industrial technology in 2009. After completing his final degree, he was hired as the artist in residence at the North Dakota Museum of Art by Laurel Reuter, the director of the museum. The position was brand new, so Guardia helped develop the roles and responsibilities.

Along with helping run exhibits and events, Guardia’s main role has been to travel throughout the state, bringing art to small towns that don’t have access to art classes.

Early fascination with clay

“Sometimes, they don’t even have a classroom for art, and I go there for a week, and I teach basics to ceramics… in an old cafeteria or in the basement,” he said. “One of the great things about the program is we reach the kids that don’t have any exposure to art, and they are very eager to learn.”

Guardia brings 300 to 400 pounds of clay and starts by showing students how to make llamas, a native to Peru.“I wanted to relate it to my background, so I showed them how to make little llamas,” he said.

To make it more fun for the kids, Guardia said he adds emotion to the llamas faces.

“I make the little llamas with big eye balls, so they look angry,” he said.

“And, I ask the kids if they know what llamas do when they get angry… some of them shout out, ‘They spit,’ and then the kids start laughing, and it kind of breaks the ice.”

Reuter said Guardia is a great teacher, especially with children.

“I remember when he started, someone told me, ‘Oh, you can’t have him. He can’t speak English or he doesn’t speak English without an accent,’” Reuter said. “And, I said that’s exactly why we should hear him.”

Reuter added that Guardia is very successful with the children, and they never have a problem understanding his Peruvian accent.

“There’s something in his gentleness, and he can deliver a lot of information simply,” she said. “He helps his students not be intimidated by what he’s teaching.”

As the artist in residence, Guardia also teaches adult drawing classes at the museum, but the majority of his time is spent with children in small North Dakota towns such as Walhalla, Pekin and Cando.

“Whatever we do, they enjoy,” he said. “Clay when it’s wet, it’s very friendly and the kids… they see that their hands are changing the form and so… I think they feel they accomplish something by doing that.”

Guardia experienced the same fascination with clay when he was a young boy. He said he started experimenting with clay when he was 4 or 5. He would use oil clay to make figurines and his own figures.

“I was making my own collections of Transformers… the same with the Star Wars,” he said.

As Guardia got older, he wanted to study sculpture, but limited finances forced him to change his major to industrial design. He received his bachelor’s degree in industrial design from Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru in Lima. But, one of the last classes he took changed the direction of his future.

“My last elective was ceramics, and that changed everything,” Guardia said. “One problem with clay is that you want to keep making more. I got hooked.”

The right subject

Guardia applied to four graduate schools in the United States, was accepted into two and a tuition waiver led him to UND, where he began studying ceramics. He focused his artistic attention on creating the perfect human figure from head to toe.

But, Guardia was never satisfied with the result.

“I wanted to sculpt the whole thing beautifully,” he said. “But every time I tried that, I wasn’t happy with what I was seeing. There was a lot of frustration.”

Guardia turned to one of his favorite artists, Auguste Rodin, for inspiration. He sculpted a man hunched over that appeared to be sad but also in deep thought. The piece was inspired by Rodin’s bronze sculpture “The Thinker.” Again, Guardia was unsatisfied with his work.

“I took one of the carving tools and started scratching the figure, and those carving lines became like pieces and those pieces became like puzzle pieces,” he said, making carving motions with his hands.

The finished figure looked like a human puzzle that was holding a single puzzle piece in its hand. Guardia said the idea was that the figure was wondering where that one piece fit into his body.

Guardia was finally satisfied.

He began a series of puzzle figures, expressing his confusion and his longing for something more. “The first time when I was out of Peru, I was a little confused,” he said. “I didn’t exactly know where to go with my career or with my artwork, and I was a little homesick, and that’s what that symbolizes.

“Sometimes, you feel like you are missing something — and the worst part is that you know there’s something missing, but you don’t know what it is.”

Guardia said his puzzle figures express the emptiness everyone experiences in life, whether it is a void created by someone that is no longer in their life, a goal they cannot yet accomplish or a particular place they no longer visit.

The intricate puzzle figures take Guardia several months to complete. He starts with coils and builds the body around them, spending three to five weeks working with wet clay. Then, he lets the pieces dry for three to four weeks before firing it in the ceramic kiln at about 2,100 degrees.

Guardia said if the piece makes it — it almost always does — he can begin painting it. He has started to make the large figures in three pieces: legs, waist and torso, so they can be more easily transported to exhibits.

Guardia’s exhibit “Ink and Mud,” is a joint exhibition with Matt Anderson, the education director at the North Dakota Museum of Art. The exhibition will be on display through Oct. 25 at the Hotel Donaldson in Fargo.

Guardia also has an art piece in the Cando Art Center in Cando, N.D. An artists’ reception will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Sept. 29. The exhibit will continue to be open from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday Oct. 1 through 11.

Maki covers Arts & Entertainment and Life & Style for the Herald and can be reached at (701) 780-1122, (800) 477-6572, ext. 1122; or