Alejandra Almuelle’s figurative sculpture reveals the human form arising out of organic, elemental, formless shapes of matter, often infused with dark and brooding undertones. There is a consistent suggestion of organic matter, and often a sense of history as well: Andean facial features, classical Greek and Roman materials. Creation. The passage of time. Decay.
Originally from Peru, Alejandra absorbed much of the rich ceramic tradition of Andean peoples. She speaks of some of these memories as a foundation for her artistic work. Alejandra subsequently relocated to Austin, Texas in the United States where she currently resides.
JW: Will you tell me a little about your background and what first attracted you to ceramics?
AA: I grew up in Peru where I was exposed to ceramic making. Clay is widely available and each region has their own signature style. I remember in particular the clay pots made in Puno, in the southern part of the Andes. They are made to cook with fire so the bottoms are convex. There was something about the roundness of the shape, the balance of the handles on each side and the edge of the opening turning outwards that left a deep impression in me as a small child.
Later on as a teen in Lima, I was blown away by the Shipibo ceramics from the central region of the Peruvian Amazon jungle. I bought a bowl that is still with me today. In my work I can see the influence of the Pre-Columbian ceramic aesthetic overlapping with the Catholic iconography I was exposed to growing up there.
JW: One article on your website mentioned that your work used to involve a lot of Sgrafitto. That sounds different from your current work. Will you tell me how your work has evolved over time?
AA: Drawing has been a central component on treating the surface of my functional work. I apply underglaze with an airbrush, this creates a thin layer that can be marked and scratch very easily.
However I also like to try different clay bodies, from earthenware, to stoneware to porcelain. This challenges me to explore different surface treatments and apply elements from sculpture to my functional work and viceversa.
JW: Will you tell me about your creative process? Where do you look for inspiration? Do you sketch out your ideas (either on paper or in clay) before working on your large-scale pieces?
AA: The focus of my work is the human form. The body fascinates me. It not only carries our genetic memory, but it is the biological archive of experience.
We are historically shaped and conditioned by the environment and by the same socioeconomic structures we have participated in creating. I am interested in exploring, through form, the interplay between the body and the world.
Everything can be a source for inspiration; something I read or listen to will trigger a thought or an image. Then if I am curious enough I will let myself explore in that direction.
I do sketch and right ideas for future work. One thing I like to do is create projects with deadlines. This keeps me engaged and committed.
JW: You tend to work in series, exploring an idea thoroughly before moving on. Do you work on multiple pieces in the series simultaneously?
AA: I do work in series. I work 1 and 2 pieces at a time. If the pieces are of small format, let’s say,12 inches high, I do 5 to 10 at a time.
JW: Your pieces look like they take a long time to create. How do you deal with the challenge of long periods of solitary work? Has the Coronavirus pandemic affected you?
AA: When I am producing work for a solo show, I like to focus only in my studio. It could get hard sometimes but I like to listen to music, podcasts, audio books. Curating what I listen also informs the work I create at a given moment.
Even though I do work well in solitude, the pandemic has eroded the spontaneous gatherings and the general sense of just being with people. We are communal beings. As artists, there so much more than what happens in the studio that makes the work we do.
More of Alejandra’s work may be viewed on her website.