|Ralph Bacerra’s work continually addresses the beauty of the decorated ceramic surface. Bacerra has maintained a steadfast focus on ornamentation; his meticulous approach incorporates a variety of elaborate non-western techniques, merging the influences of 20th century American studio ceramics with traditional Asian ceramics. Ulysses Grant Dietz recognized, "An entirely different painterly quality began to appear in American studio pots in the late 1970s. Ralph Bacerra was one of the first potters to revive the highly decorative surface, turning to enamels and luster glazes in a way that would have been unheard of in Los Angeles (or anywhere else in the Western world, for that matter) a decade earlier."
Bacerra’s work is influenced by his travels to China, Japan, and Taiwan. His work incorporates a multitude of visual experiences, including his investigations of Imari ware, China paint techniques with layered glazes and enameled silver and gold, and celadon works at the National Museum in Taipei. Bacerra, stimulated by the mystery of these objects, incorporates traditional techniques—yet adapts them in his own style. Ralph Bacerra states:
My pieces are based on traditional ideas and engage in certain cultural appropriations—in form, in design, in glaze choices. However, my work is not postmodern in the sense that I am not making any statements—social, political, conceptual, or even intellectual. There is no meaning or metaphor. I am committed more to the idea of pure beauty. When it is finished, the piece should be like an ornament, exquisitely beautiful.
Ken Johnson, Art Critic of the New York Times, writes "To look at Ralph Bacerra’s gorgeous ceramic vessels is to wallow in visual hedonism." The interlocking shapes of M.C. Escher and the voided areas in Japanese prints have informed Bacerra’s sense of design. Further visual influences on Bacerra’s work come from abstract painters of the 20th century including Wassily Kandinsky. Author Mac McCloud discusses Bacerra’s ability to orchestrate these elements:
The geometric imagery of Bacerra’s collages conveys authority, sinuosity and the freewheeling wit of neatly interwoven stripes of shifting background hues. He synthesizes a verity of visual influences, several from non-Western cultures. His adaptations of ‘Oriental’ concepts of space—the planes that tilt precipitously forward towards the viewer.
Ralph Bacerra studied ceramics at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, California, an institution that later merged with California Institute of the Arts, earning a bachelor of fine arts in 1961. Bacerra studied with Vivika Heino and later taught at the institution from 1963 to 1972. After leaving Chouinard, Bacerra worked for a decade as a studio artist until accepting a position as chairman of the ceramics department at Otis College of Art and Design in 1983. He retired in 1996 and has since been traveling and working in his studio in Eagle Rock, California.
Ralph Bacerra’s work is included in museum collections worldwide, which are listed below. Bacerra has received commissions from several institutions including the Four Seasons in San Francisco, California, and Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. In both situations Bacerra was asked to create large, site-specific, vessels for dining room installation. In addition Bacerra has designed several large murals including a fourteen-foot mural for the Western Assets Plaza in Pasadena. The mural is comprised of over 3,000 individually fabricated pieces possessing undulating visual form.
Ralph Bacerra passed away on Tuesday, June 10, 2008.
American Museum of Ceramic Arts, Pomona, California
Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, Arizona
Bates Gallery, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, Pennsylvania
Cooper Hewitt Museum, New York
Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York
John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin
Krannert Art Museum, Champaign, Illinois
Kutani International Ceramics, Ishikawa, Japan
Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, California
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California
M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, California
Mint Museum of Craft + Design, Charlotte, North Carolina
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Museum of Arts and Design, New York
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan
Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Newark Museum of Art, Newark, New Jersey
Nora Eccles Harrison Museum, Logan, Utah
Oakland Museum of Art, Oakland, California
Racine Art Museum, Racine, Wisconsin
Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, Shigaraki, Japan
Syracuse University Art Gallery, Syracuse, New York
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom
The White House, Washington, D.C.
Wichita Art Museum, Wichita, Kansas
Early Works Catalogue
Selected Solo Exhibitions
2010 Early Works: Personal and Intimate, Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica, California
2008 A Survey of Late Work, Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica, California
2006 A Survey of Recent Work, Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica, California
2003 Garth Clark Gallery, New York
2001 Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica, California
1999 Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica, California
Garth Clark Gallery, New York
1997 Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica, California
1996 Garth Clark Gallery, New York
1995 Cohen Berkowitz Gallery, Kansas City, Missouri
1994 Garth Clark Gallery, Los Angeles, California
1993 Garth Clark Gallery, New York
1990 Garth Clark Gallery, New York
1989 Garth Clark Gallery, Los Angeles, California
1988 Garth Clark Gallery, Los Angeles, California
1986 Garth Clark Gallery, New York
1984 Garth Clark Gallery, Los Angeles, California
American Hand, Washington, D.C.
1983 Theo Portnoy Gallery, New York
1980 Theo Portnoy Gallery, New York
1979 American Hand, Washington, D.C.
1977 American Hand, Washington, D.C.
1976 Theo Portnoy Gallery, New York