Jonathan Christensen Caballero
“The cost of participation in our society can then lead to questions of inclusion versus exclusion. Who benefits from the American dream? Who is allowed representation, visibility and to feel a sense of belonging?”
“My work focuses on the human figure and advocates for the Latin American labor community”. Jonathan Christensen Caballero is a Latinx multidisciplinary artist whose incredible work captures his inspirations with masterful realism while relaying important messages to the viewer. As an international success, Christensen Caballero’s exquisite work has been exhibited in prestigious venues such as the Clay Center of New Orleans in Louisiana, Standard Ceramic Supply in Pennsylvania, Carbondale Clay Center in Colorado, and Tsukuba Museum of Art in Japan. He was recently featured in the Ceramics Monthly May 2021 Emerging Artists edition where he explained that, “My work began as a way to communicate some of the struggles my family has faced, yet I know my experience is similar to that of many other people. I want my sculptures not to focus on me, but instead on what we must overcome”.
Christensen Caballero’s work is heavily influenced by the Latin American community, and specifically his own familial experiences; “My art is based on my personal identity, which was formed both by watching my parents support the family through labor jobs as well as by my mother, who emigrated from Panama. My artwork narrates enduring questions of identity through the use of the human figure, pre-Columbian iconography, and mixed-media sculpture. The cost of participation in our society can then lead to questions of inclusion versus exclusion. Who benefits from the American dream? Who is allowed representation, visibility and to feel a sense of belonging?” Christen Caballero’s sculptures are incredibly lifelike and portray detailed expression to capture the emotion behind the moments he has masterfully captured in his pieces. His process to capture these narratives is complex and draws on his talent for multidisciplinary art as he explained in his Ceramics Monthly interview; “My figurative sculptures are made with a number of materials including red earthenware, secondhand fibers, readymade objects, building materials, indigo, metal, and wood. My ceramic practice begins with life castings from family members and friends. These castings are then made into press molds of their faces and hands. I handbuild the figures’ necks, heads, and hair by using soft slabs and coils. At this point they have little emotion or gesture, so I model the sculptures’ expressions and articulate their posture to fit their narratives”. The overall results are amazing sculptural pieces that embody the struggles and emotions that surround the subjects of his work. Christensen Caballero explained that his art is meant to bring these narratives to the forefront of his viewer’s minds and proliferate needed change throughout the world; “The figures reveal people who contribute to society by enduring labors which often sacrifice their health and safety. Through my art, I hope to be part of the change I want to see in the world. It is a moral imperative for Latin Americans to be celebrated as part of the fabric of US society. Our bodies aren’t solely destined for labor, but also love, joy, and acceptance”.
Christensen Caballero explained that his inspirations draw on a number of surrounding relationships and sources; “I draw inspiration from many sources: familial ties, history, politics, and identity. In the studio I am usually listening to history programming, storytelling, or speaking with my family”. His mesmerizing pieces capture the harsh realities that the subjects of his art endure, but also the fierce determination they embody. While many of his sculptures have highlighted the hardships of his subjects, he revealed that his favorite piece focuses on a much different, but equally important, emotion; “My favorite sculpture I’ve made was Hijo Mio/ My Son. This sculpture showcases the familial bonds which are often the reason people are able to endure tough labor jobs. Much of my previous work focused on the struggle, whereas this sculpture was a turning point for my work to also show love and joy”.
His mesmerizing pieces capture the harsh realities that the subjects of his art endure, but also the fierce determination they embody. Christensen Caballero himself has showcased his own amazing determination and tenacity throughout his artistic journey. He explained that, “With neither of my parents having a college degree and working labor jobs, it was challenging to imagine a career as an artist. Many of my peers in college and university received a lot of financial support from their families. I come from more humble means, so the work ethic I learned from my parents helped me outpace many of my peers. With persistence I received many different scholarships and grants that helped continue my career”. Through his own perseverance, Christensen Caballero has made a name for himself, exhibited internationally, discovered artistic success, and has a myriad of accolades including an A.S. in art from Snow College, a B.F.A in ceramics and sculpture from Utah State University, a M.F.A. in ceramics from Indiana University, an ISC Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture award, and he is the current Interdisciplinary Ceramic Research Center Artist in Residence at the University of Kansas.
Throughout his artistic journey, Christensen Caballero has had many mentors and has refined his process, all of which has contributed to what he creates today. As he explained, “One of the biggest transformations in my practice was as a student at Indiana University Bloomington. During a private critique my professor’s Malcolm Mobutu Smith and Tim Mather challenged me to think about the socioeconomic significance clothes can carry. After the critique Malcolm then challenged me to make a sculpture entirely out of clothes. During the next year, I received the mentorship of Richard James at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and created my sculpture, Service: Chairs which was the first life size, full figure combining used denim, earthenware, and found objects. This sculpture was the beginning of my current body of work”. He hopes to also inspire other artists to be honest about their inspirations and create work that really speaks to their own artistic voice; “Humans are first and foremost makers. What we choose to make changes based on each individual’s experience and I hope to inspire other artists to speak their own truths. My best advice would be to move through this world with an open mind and generous heart. Your inspirations can come from anywhere and anyone. Strive to be honest with yourself and the work will find its way”. He challenges emerging artists to question themselves and their work to truly develop their own inspirations and find what they love; “Is there something that you feel compelled to make? A similar shape, texture, or concept you find yourself repeating over and over? Be aware of what you keep coming back to, there is probably something meaningful or important that you should dig further into”. Tenacity and perseverance are merely 2 of the tools Christensen Caballero has armed himself with to carve his niche in this industry, but they’ve proved essential. His work is a masterful and beautiful interpretation of his inspirations and Jonathan Christensen Caballero has proved his artistic dedication towards creating important and meaningful change in this world. With pieces that speak a world of truth through vibrant beauty, the industry waits in earnest for the next pieces this incredible artist will confront it with.
Educational/Personal Growth Opportunity
“Humans are first and foremost makers. What we choose to make changes based on each individual’s experience and I hope to inspire other artists to speak their own truths. My best advice would be to move through this world with an open mind and generous heart. Your inspirations can come from anywhere and anyone. Strive to be honest with yourself and the work will find its way.”
“Is there something that you feel compelled to make? A similar shape, texture, or concept you find yourself repeating over and over? Be aware of what you keep coming back to, there is probably something meaningful or important that you should dig further into.”