Oscar Soteno Elias
"Feelings are very important when one sits in front of the clay. It is necessary to put your heart into the work."Oscar Soteno Elias, born in 1971, has been producing exquisite ceramics since his adolescence and is already one of the leading artisans in Mexican pottery. His works have been exhibited in leading museums of the world, including London's British Museum, and he has been comissioned by celebrities and world leaders, including Pope John Paul II.
Soteno's family has worked with clay for generations, and is popularly considered to have invented the tree of life. Oscar Soteno continues a tradition that has been highly valued in his hometown of Metepec, a city in the state of Mexico renowned for its brilliantly colored ceramics, especially the "trees of life" and "trees of death" which vertically represent the relationship between heaven and earth. These minutely detailed works depict the symbiosis of the biblical story of Adam and Eve's banishment from Eden and the fertility and annual regeneration of the land. Soteno's pieces, most notably the trees of life, tell a story through the use of flowers, birds, skulls and jars, important symbols of Mexican folklore. He explores religious themes as well as facets of everyday relationships, using biblical images, Day of the Dead motifs, Aztec icons such as the circular calendar and pyramids, and symbols of modernity like skyscrapers.
Soteno's talent has been recognized by art lovers around the world and in Mexico. Metepec has honored his work for its success in advancing the local artisan community, and he has received awards throughout Mexico for his pieces. He had the honor of being the youngest artisan to ever receive the coveted Fomento Cultural Banamex award in Mexico when he was twenty-three. In 1995 he earned the highly prized Presidential Award at the National Ceramic Awards in Tlaquepaque, and his art has been exhibited all over the world. His latest recognition was being chosen to exhibit his works at the World Expo 2000 in Hannover, Germany. Soteno's pieces are exceptional in that, unlike most ceramicists of the region, he models his work by hand primarily instead of depending on molds. Red and yellow clays excavated from Ocotitlan in the state of Mexico are dried and pulverized into a fine powder, then mixed with water and lightened to create the desired texture and consistency for Soteno's work.
Soteno says, "Feelings are very important when one sits in front of the clay. It is necessary to put your heart into the work. To lose our arts and crafts is to lose a part of our culture."