José Arenivar-Gomez was on the job less than a week as Pewabic glaze technician when he submitted a few of his ceramic sculptures for consideration in the annual staff and student exhibition. Not only did juror Kenyon Hansen select his work to be in the show, he named Not in the Mood best of show.
“It was so unexpected. When I was told about it, I asked ‘are you serious?’ I literally started work two days before the deadline,” says Arenivar-Gomez, describing how everything fell into place. “These pieces came out of the kiln only a few days before.”
Born and raised in Chihuahua, Mexico, Arenivar-Gomez sees his work as a platform for self-expression, particularly as a way to embrace his sexuality after years of concealing his queer identity, and hopes to begin conversations and even discourse about queerness in the art world. The act of coil-building mythical beings helps Arenivar-Gomez express his emotions and experiences.
“I think of this creature as a self-portrait,” he says. “I’m kind of trying to create my own symbology, create my own mythical phallic creature that can talk about the stories that are hard for me to share. I’m trying to share through my work.”
Arenivar-Gomez enjoys the personal relationship of getting to know each creature as he carves them.
“Through that process I discover what kind of glaze they need to have and how to display them,” he says.
The metallic, almost chrome-like finish of Not in the Mood, came as a happy accident. Its mirroring effect suits Arenivar-Gomez: “The viewer literally reflects themself.” Let’s Talk and Pinkish are his other pieces in the show.
At age 16, Arenivar-Gomez moved to Las Cruces, N.M., and soon studied drawing and painting at New Mexico State University. Toward the finish of his undergraduate studies, he tried ceramics.
“I liked the physicality of working with clay, the intimate act of building the forms,” he says.
He came to metro-Detroit to study ceramics at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he received his masters in 2018. He decided to stay in the area.
“I feel the art community here is growing,” says Arenivar-Gomez, pointing to new galleries and other opportunities in Detroit.
So is his cache of creatures, in different shapes and sizes, just waiting to be explored and to tell Arenivar-Gomez’s story. He calls them rabbits still, while acknowledging that they’ve evolved from the timid and fearful animal, characteristics he’s identified with in the past.
“I don’t want the rabbit to flee anymore,” he says.
For a complete list of the winners of the 2019 Maker/Mentor exhibition: https://www.pewabic.org/collections/maker-mentor-exhibition