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Raku Star

Handmade Tales: George Breisch Gonzalez


Published May 13, 2008 at 5:02 p.m.

George Breisch Gonzalez, 35, can be found most cloudless evenings firing vases on the gravel apron outside the Burlington City Arts Clay Studio. The Miami-born ceramics artist has been creating his distinctive raku and silk-screened, clay-slab vessels at the Main Street venue since he first strolled in, out of Gcuriosity, shortly after moving to Vermont in 2004.

Now, passersby often pause at the sight of him tending his homemade raku kiln — a rusted oil drum lined with fiberglass and heated with two barbecue-style propane gas tanks. The rig may look frugal, but one 45-minute firing will use up both tanks, Gonzalez explains. “People do raku because they love it — not for the money,” adds the brown-eyed artist with an unflagging smile.

Gonzalez’s father is from Cuba, he recounts, but was forced to leave in 1962 when he was discovered trying to help his brother escape. The two floated perilously to Florida on a homemade raft. The artist’s mother is Pennsylvania Dutch — “about as American as you can get,” he says. Choosing to honor both parents, he added his mother’s maiden name to his father’s in the Spanish style. The unofficial name change is in keeping with the thrust of his art — to convey the world’s interconnectedness.

The source of that global bond, Gonzalez declares, is an underlying spirituality. Everything and everyone is sacred, he believes. The artist gleaned his ideas from Buddhism and from post-graduate study of shamanism and Pre-Colombian cultures at the New World School of the Arts, with Florida International University art history professor Manny Torrez.

Gonzalez’s “Reassembled” series of vases perfectly embodies his sense of shared sacredness. The roughly seamed objects are built from slabs of clay printed with Tibetan and Hebrew religious texts, pictures of crucifixes and samples of “sacred geometry” — mathematical designs often found in churches that symbolize the perfection of nature, he explains. Too often, Gonzalez continues, dogmatic religion has caused people to emphasize difference. His “reassembled” vases — tightly seamed on the inside, he points out — “illuminate the commonality of religion.”

The slab vases are meant to look like sacred items from antiquity as reconstructed by archaeologists. Meanwhile, Gonzalez’s other major series — hand-thrown clay plates called “Sacred Places” — depict present-day, deliberately mundane scenes in natural-toned color slips. One plate features the crisscrossed power lines at the top of a telephone pole. The act of gazing carefully at something so utilitarian and generally overlooked brings its hidden geometric beauty into relief — and, Gonzalez hopes, elevates it to transcendence through art.

Then there are the raku vases, which sit grouped in the center of a studio work table like a small community. Their colors are riveting. This art is beautiful to look at, but it’s also Gonzalez’s way of evoking the mysterious forces of nature for which Pre-Colombian cultures had such an affinity. Each piece ends up uniquely patterned and colored in a process that, he explains, is completely out of his control. Thus, Gonzalez suggests, “the spontaneity and beauty of raku is kind of like the spontaneity and beauty of creation itself.”

When Gonzalez is not at his “second home” — as he calls the studio — he cares for his 5-year-old son at home in Colchester, and pursues other arts in his basement. The ceramicist is also a painter and printmaker, who teaches all three mediums through Burlington City Arts. Does he have time to practice any sort of spirituality? “Oh, every minute of every day,” says the artist with an even wider smile.

Click a photo above to see the location.