“My hope is to contribute something beautiful to society, something that can have a powerful effect on the human heart, drawing us out of ourselves into something greater and higher, something that can fill us with a hunger for truth that transcends the mundane.” Horacio Casillas is an incredible artist whose work is masterfully weaving pops of color into more traditional inspirations. Having lived on a ranch in Mexico, and a US dairy farm, Casillas has been exposed to many environments and has found a way to make them part of his artistic voice. Inspired by his upbringing in Tepatitlan, Jalisco, Casillas is using the imagery and traditions he grew up with to bring exciting pieces to the table that help his connect with his audience; “My work is a reflection of my upbringing and the everyday rituals that have been instilled in me. I intend for my work to be shared with others. In sharing, I hope to develop a connection with the viewer.”
“I believe that being an artist means more than just the tangible things we create; it is written in our hears to be the protectors and defenders of beauty. We are a value to society, so I urge you to continue this difficult but important path of being an artist.”
Casillas explained that he , “first got into ceramics in Undergrad as a required course, but I soon realized it was a medium like none that I’d ever experienced. It is so nuanced, easy to work with in some cases and very difficult in others. Part of the appeal for me was the challenge to “master” the material or to at least gain more control over it. When I finally reached a point where I had adequate control of the material, I realized I could make anything or at least try to, even if I had difficulty creating something”. On his artist website, Casillas also explained that clay’s ability to capture concepts like utility, nostalgia, and emotion have also been a huge draw to the medium; “What initially attracted me to clay is its potential for utility, but I’ve grown to understand that other than utility, a pot can be something evocative, enlightening, and even provocative. I experienced some of these emotions first hand when I unloaded my first wood and soda fired pieces, admiring the deep oranges, the dark ash deposits, and the variations of flashing. I felt a sense of nostalgia from when I was a kid living on my grandpa’s farm, admiring the colors and elements of nature”.
The Catholic faith, and it’s influence on his upbringing, has been of huge inspiration to Casillas; “I find the traditions, and rituals, and sacramentals to be motivating and inspiring. Though my current work is highly influenced by architecture, specifically gothic cathedrals, windows, archways, and entryways, it was the burning of Notre Dame that jumpstarted my desire to reference gothic architecture and other cathedrals”. His recent work, “strongly focuses on evoking human connection by merging the corporal and the spiritual, I carve my work to represent cathedral windows and entryways inspired by Gothic architecture and the Catholic churches of my hometown of Tepatitlan, Jalisco”. The far-reaching nature of Catholicism and the Church has been something Casillas has come to admire during his artistic journey and he said that, “Pope John Paul II said in his letter to artists “The purpose of art is nothing less than the upliftment of the human spirit.” Focusing my work through the lens of my Catholic faith has given me an appreciation for the traditions found in the Church including her influence on architecture”. Water has also become a source of inspiration for Casillas, and although at first it may seem far apart from his inspirations founded in faith, Casillas explains on his artist website that, “In addition to the utilitarian aspect of ceramics, my exploration of clay has led to a love for making Holy Water Fonts for use in the Catholic Church. Water has always been an element of cleansing and renewal and is a very important part of my faith. Making holy water fonts is how I best represent my faith in a physical way, as it allows me to connect with the vast Catholic community”. Beyond this, the importance of water conservation was a strongly taught lesson throughout his childhood in West Texas. Casillas recalled that, “My parents would remind my siblings and I to conserve water to prevent our well from suddenly running dry”. However, this relationship with water also led Casillas to create the piece “Community Well” for his graduate thesis, which is the work he is most proud of; “it took about a year for me to make, it consisted of 400 individually handmade bricks to make up a life size well where family and community members contributed to its construction in the making of some of the bricks. The well was specifically created for my graduate thesis show but I also had the opportunity to install it at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft for their juried show called “Craft Texas”. That gave it the platform to be featured in Ceramics Monthly in 2019.”. Casillas explained that, “the concept originated from the literal and symbolic importance of water throughout my life. The more I questioned the meaning and the purpose of the well, the more I began to think outside of myself. The purpose of a well is to provide water to a community, and in turn bringing the community together. It seemed fitting, then, to invite members of my community to help build a well by participating in the construction of the bricks.”.
His incredible talent and exceptional pieces have made Casillas an accomplished artist in his own right, and the industry has given it’s sure nod of approval. Casillas has received the Olsen Buttery Art Scholarship twice, placed 1st in the Earth Day Festival Juried Recycled Art Show in 2013, placed 3rd in the 57th Annual Vortman student competition in 2017, and was a resident artist at the The Epic in Grand Prairie, Texas from 2018-2019. He was also recently featured by @diversityinwoodfiring on Instagram and is represented by Companion Gallery. The road to success, as many artists find, hasn’t always been the easiest to navigate. When asked about the challenges he had faced in his artistic jouney, Casillas explained that the challenges weren’t always “ceramic specific”; “when I left undergrad and entered graduate school, I had a very limited knowledge of the art world. I had never been to NCECA and wasn’t even aware that my school could offer funding for a trip like that, I had never heard of any craft school where I could have taken workshops and potentially received a scholarship. I’m happy to have gotten my graduate degree but I left undergrad thinking the only way to continue exploring clay is to go to grad school. Truth is there are plenty of residencies out there and none of them require a graduate degree and some don’t even require a bachelors. My advice to an educator is to make sure your students are aware of potential opportunities out there and don’t trick your students into thinking that the only way to grow in knowledge is to follow the rout of academia. My advice to students is ask a lot of questions and do a lot of research and if you truly desire to go to grad school then go, but consider first your options because you do have options”.
The relationship between student and teacher is one that is almost sacred; there’s so much to learn and having support is integral to making the relationship really function. Casillas explained that he didn’t necessarily always find that support, but that the knowledge of those who did support him was crucial to his journey; “When I was in undergrad my major professor refused to write me a letter of recommendation for a reason he chose not to share, at the time it felt like a punch in the gut, but it helped me realize that even if I didn’t have his support there were still others who did support me. That experience allowed me the opportunity to grow in confidence, I could either wallow in the shame and rejection or I could trust that my work was worthy and seek the reference of other professors who would be willing to talk to me about my work. Benjamin Sum was my painting teacher and even though I wasn’t a painting student he showed me his support and still does to this day and I’m happy to now call him a friend”. Casillas has hopes of becoming an educator in this field as well, and said that, “my advice to other artists is to never stop making, try to always find ways to be creative and never stop pursuing beauty”. Casillas also has strong beliefs in destiny; artists above all else are born with an important role to play in this world and are more than the pieces they create. Casillas left this challenge for other artists: “My challenge for you is to look into yourself and ask yourself why you are a creative, why do you use the materials and mediums you do and if your preferred medium was no longer available, could you still be an artist? I believe that being an artist means more than just the tangible things we create; it is written in our hears to be the protectors and defenders of beauty. We are a value to society, so I urge you to continue this difficult but important path of being an artist”. The obstacles will always be there, but Horacio Casillas is proof that artistic passion lies within and that the artistic voice is a powerful one that should never be contained, in spite of those obstacles. His inspirations may evoke powerful emotions and steal the breath of those who look at them, but the work of Casillas shows that a simple piece of art can do the same thing when created by the hands of someone who is destined to be a “protector and defender of beauty”.
Educational/Personal Growth Opportunity“My advice to other artists is to never stop making, try to always find ways to be creative and never stop pursing beauty.”
“My challenge for you is to look into yourself and ask yourself why you are a creative, why do you use the materials and mediums you do and if your preferred medium was no longer available could you still be an artist? I believe that being an artist means more than just the tangible things we create; it is written in our hearts to be the protectors and defenders of beauty. We are a value to society, so I urge you to continue this difficult but important path of being an artist.”