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The Queue: Juan Barroso

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.

The Queue: Juan Barroso

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.
Spring 2023 issue of American Craft magazine
Juan Barroso

Juan Barroso. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Welcome to the vessel series of The Queue.

A biweekly roundup for and by the craft community, The Queue introduces you to the artists, curators, organizers, and more featured in the pages of American Craft magazine. Our Spring 2023 issue (cover pictured right) is centered on the theme vessel and is out now! Join today to reserve your copy while there's still time. In The Queue, we invite the inspiring individuals featured in this issue to share personally about their lives and work as well as what's inspiring them right now.

Juan Barroso’s creation of painted ceramics is a devotional act, honoring his family, his Mexican heritage, and the labor of immigrant workers.

Juan Barroso, who was born in the US but raised in both Mexico and the US, makes and decorates functional ceramics to honor the labor of Mexican immigrants, including his own family, in the United States. Using a tiny watercolor brush and pointillist techniques, he methodically creates thousands of small dots on each vessel he makes, depicting working hands and bodies, animals, faces, and tools. His works range from sculptural forms symbolizing Mexican immigrant laborers, such as water jugs and safety helmets, to conventional mugs, vases, and pitchers. Barroso wrote about his piece Honoring the Janitor—a large, fully functional ceramic mop bucket painted with an image of a janitor—in “What’s in a Vessel?” in the Spring 2023 issue of American Craft. He was a member of ACC’s 2022 Emerging Artist Cohort. | @juan_barroso_art

Stack of American Craft magazines

How do you describe your work or practice in 50 words or less?
I paint detailed images about the plight, struggle, hope, and heritage of Mexican immigrants on porcelain vessels using a small watercolor brush. My process is time-consuming and labor-intensive. I see it as an act of devotion and a way to stay connected to my family, our values, and our culture.

Your work often uses a vessel form—a mop bucket, a pitcher, a mug—to convey a precise, painted image. Why do you use vessels in this way?
I paint images on functional vessels to reflect immigrant laborers, who design themselves to be practical and useful in a variety of situations. For the immigrant waiting on the street corner for a day of manual labor, being useful in a variety of jobs can mean survival. A vessel can become a part of your everyday life and routine. As such, the images on them can become a daily reminder that we are all worthy of respect and dignity.

A major theme in your art is honoring immigrant workers. Can you tell us about your favorite craft artists or projects that focus on immigration in the US?
Karla García creates desert landscape installations as a metaphor for her upbringing in the border towns of Ciudad Juárez, México, and El Paso, Texas. She creates cacti sculptures with clay to reference her Mexican cultural heritage and as a metaphor for our collective resilience as immigrants. The Farmworker Project is committed to improving the lives of farmworkers through technology, education, food, water, and safety equipment.

What processes do you find most exciting and engaging in your work?
If I had to choose, it would be the painting process itself. The last glaze firing shrinks the dots and raises the contrast in the image. In my black-and-white paintings, the white underglaze (my highlights) remains hidden until the last firing. Seeing patient preparation become clean and precise beauty is cathartic and joyful. Designing a new form is also very rewarding.

What’s one of your go-to / favorite tools in your tool kit?
My Winsor & Newton Cotman #0000 watercolor brush. It holds more underglaze per brush load, which saves my wrists after thousands of dots. The brushstrokes are also smoother.

Hand-painted porcelain cup with imagery of George Floyd and a person in a gas mask.

Juan Barroso, Perhaps This Place Is Not A Home, 2023, hand-painted underglaze, porcelain, 6 x 3.25 x 3.25 in. Photo by Juan Barroso.

Hand-painted porcelain cup with imagery of protestors and handcuffs.

Juan Barroso, Perhaps This Place Is Not A Home, 2023, hand-painted underglaze, porcelain, 6 x 3.25 x 3.25 in. Photo by Juan Barroso.

Which artists, craft exhibitions, or projects do you think the world should know about, and why?
Horacio Casillas carves pottery with contemplative designs that reference cathedral architecture. Gabo Martínez carves patterns and lettering on colorful vessels inspired by her Mexican identity. Kristy Moreno makes ceramic work focused on the imagined personas of radicalized future ancestors who survived by decolonizing their way out of patriarchal systems. José Manuel Flores Nava has been making colorful and functional ceramic vessels with sculptural fruit elements that make me think about the labor of farmworkers. All of these artists are of great substance.

Ceramic figurine

Kristy Moreno, On My Way To The Galaxy, 2023, stoneware, underglaze, engobes, glaze, 13 x 11 x 8 in. Photo by Kristy Moreno.

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