Balance in Clay: The Sculpture of Maria Ines Varela

By Krauskopf, Ruth | Ceramics Art & Perception, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Balance in Clay: The Sculpture of Maria Ines Varela


Krauskopf, Ruth, Ceramics Art & Perception


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The sculptures of Maria Ines Varela live in a world of changing shapes in which one perceives both patient work and knowledge of clay. But, she never allows technique to be the protagonist, and lets subtle sensitivity become her work's most attractive element.

VARELA WAS BORN IN 1958 IN SANTIAGO, CHILE into a family that valued art and literature. She graduated from Art School at the University of Chile in 1984, the same school at which her grandmother, who was a painter, had been a distinguished professor many years before.

Matias Vial, a well known Chilean sculptor, was Varela's professor. He encouraged her to become a sculptor, advising her to focus in courses that would help her grow as an artist and leave the learning of technique and craftsmanship for later. This she did. In her very own words he was "a great teacher".

But, as one can appreciate from her sculptures today, she did not postpone craftsmanship forever. She has achieved, through careful work and perseverance, a delicate balance of the qualities required to make work easily understandable while representing her unique individuality.

At the University she started working with wood, stone and bronze and later she discovered the possibilities of clay. She becomes filled with joyous energy when she realizes that with clay she can move the material, the response being immediate and so different from that of the stone. She can leave the imprint of tools and of her hands, she can sense the humidity and she can feel with a slight touch how the material responds. She has been committed to this medium ever since, working at her own studio, taking different workshops and attending Carol Young's studio in Bogota, Colombia while she lived there for two years.

After she returned to Chile in 2001, she became a member of Taller de Ceramica Huara Huara, in Santiago, the studio where she works now. At the same time she founded her private studio, mostly devoted to her work with glass and which has witnessed her growth as an artist in that medium. She feels that working at the same time with both glass and clay has enriched her vocabulary. One can see how accidents or findings with glass have influenced her clay sculpture, especially the surface treatment. Her surfaces are marked by the search of transparency and subtle lines. She achieves this by applying skins of different watered slips and the drawing of fine lines. Thus, these surfaces act visually in tension vis a vis the strong treatment of shape. All this is most evident in her torsos.

Her arrival at Taller de Ceramica Huara Huara allowed her to leave behind her shy approach to her own work and enabled her to commit more strongly to its development. The interaction with other artists who work at the studio and also with beginners who contribute with a fresher outlook, confronts her with her goals and motivations. Taller Huara Huara also gives her the opportunity to work in a reduction atmosphere kiln, take part in group shows, workshops and many other clay related activities. In this atmosphere of lively interaction, Varela's sculptures of women trapped in their own bodies are born.

Varela made many of these women, some mixed with glass, but always trapped and with the attitude of someone that does not find her way out, incapable of movement. Feelings of immobility, emotional and physical paralysis emanate from their rigid bodies.

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Often artists know only after their work is finished what motivated them to take up a specific subject. …

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