By Natalie Taylor
Juan Luis Potosi was born in Leon, and went to college at Universidad La Salle, in his home city. He completed his studies in Industrial Design, where he learned how to work with various materials—wood, ceramics, metals, and clay. He also learned welding, and noted, in particular, how objects interact with human beings. This led to his interest in crafting sculptures, which he did while studying. In a little studio at his parents’ house, he would lose himself for hours, working on a particular sculpture. Juan Luis began using air dried clay, which he continues to use to this day. The material he uses is a modeling clay from Italy, which is very pliable, moist, and allows for a lot of time to sculpt something. Once exposed to air, it begins to dry, however it is still possible to apply moisture to it and refashion something already done. Unlike gypsum, for example, which once hardened cannot be manipulated again, modeling clay remains pliable for a long time.
When Juan Luis completed his studies, he felt the need to take off, to find other worlds, and “open his brain.” In 2008, he went to Montreal, and remained there for almost a year. Now, living in San Miguel, he has his own studio where he crafts his unique sculptures.
Juan Luis begins his sculptures by first fashioning a base—or skeleton—over which the clay is applied. The skeleton can be made out of wires, wood, or any other solid material. He can use flammable material because the clay will not be fired in a kiln. Once the skeleton is done, he applies the modeling clay over it. The clay simply air dries, but in time, is just as hard as ceramic.
The process of applying a coating over the skeleton is where the magic continues. He does not necessarily cover every hollow, and every exposed part of the underlying armature. Often he chooses to leave sections open, intentionally omitting areas to allow a glimpse of the interior structure. In 2019 he began using escombros—rubbish, or discards which he integrates into his sculptures. An example is his own studio when he acquired it, with a pile of metal structures, discarded wires, and metal tubing, all remains of old building materials on the rooftop. When the owner said he would clean up the mess, Juan Luis emphatically told him not to do that; to leave all the escombros where they were. These pieces have become integrated into several of his sculptures, and are there for future use.
His current project, “angels and demons,” has several unique representations of St. Michael the Archangel. But the archangel does not resemble the traditional portrayal—a young man with wings, sword held high as he stands over a demon. The angels and demons of Juan Luis are not obvious, they suggest their essence with a few details. In the photo shown, only the frame is nearly complete. In its minimal form it unequivocally evokes an ancient warrior because of the prominent pteruges—strip-like metal strips hanging from the waist. The devil stands to the side, as if waiting for the eternal battle to begin.
In some of his sculptures, Juan Luis moves toward the realm of surrealism. One such is his own interpretation of a mythological creature called a manticore. It’s a Persian legendary creature, similar to the Egyptian sphinx, with the head of a human, body of a lion, and a tail made up of poisonous spikes, or even a snake or a scorpion. Another piece is part human, part animal, and stands on three legs, defying classification.
Between unfinished and deteriorated, between deliberate and fortuitous, between abstract and representational, the sculptures of Juan Luis fall somewhere along the spectrum linking all these classifications. One of his pieces is a good example of intentional and serendipitous—a sculpture of St Michael, which he had completed and set aside to dry. However, it was exposed to the sun, and some of the clay melted, leaving sections of the infrastructure exposed, and a pile of clay at its feet. Juan Luis intends to keep it as is, and turn into bronze—a collaborative sculpture with the sun.
Find Juan Luis at juanluispotosi.com and view his works at Healy’s Contemporary Art Gallery at Puente de Umaran 15, 415 197 3471.Natalie Taylor: BA in English Lit and Journalism, Loyola University, Chicago, 1995. MFA in Creative Writing, Vermont College, Montpelier, VT, 1999. Published writer, editor, journalist. Spanish teacher in the US, English teacher in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Translator. www.natalietaylor.org Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org