In the Studio

Art and spirituality with Ricardo Estella

Posted on September 14, 2011

I recently met with Creativity Explored artist Ricardo Estella to learn more about his art making, his chosen subject matter, what inspires him to create, and his role in Creativity Explored’s next exhibition, Hands on Clay.

I have seen Ricardo working in the studio since I began working with Creativity Explored a little over a year ago. I’ve always been intrigued by Ricardo’s intense passion and dedication to his art making. I asked Ricardo about the source of his intense artistic passion. He immediately discussed both the influence of his parents and his spirituality. Ricardo’s father, himself an artist, sculptor, and filmmaker in the Philippines, made a great impact in Ricardo’s life and art making. According to Ricardo, “I’m like my own Dad. It was him that taught me to paint and do sculpting work when I was eight years old.”

Born in New York City and raised in the Philippines, Ricardo describes life there as “hard”. Despite hardship, art and spirituality have always been ways for Ricardo to better explore and understand the world around him. Much of Ricardo’s current work depicts typical Christian iconography and religious symbolism, but I soon learned that Ricardo’s spirituality is not solely Christian in origin, but also highly informed by Hinduism. He explains, “Every time I do religious stuff, it is because I can see Him in my mind. I believe there is a God in everyone.  In my mind I have a picture of what I want to create. My mind is like a camera, from my mind to the paper.” 

As Ricardo and I walked around the studio together, he pointed out a sculpture of Ganesha, a major Hindu deity easily recognizable by his elephant head. This sculpture seemed very distinct from Ricardo’s more recent portrayals of Jesus and the Apostles on the Cross-or Noah’s Arc. Ricardo first saw Ganesha when he went to India in 1988. Ricardo’s time in India, though not explicitly apparent in his work, has impacted Ricardo’s artistic renderings of spirituality, power, and memory. “I was meeting Sai Baba in India.” Explained Ricardo. “He was teaching me about God and showing me these mystical powers. He materialized things in his hand, like ash, vibhuti, a sacred ash.”

Ricardo Estella as Sai Baba.

Ricardo’s experiences are vast and impressive, ranging from his excursions in India with the spiritual educator and mystic Sai Baba, to working on a ship in Alaska as a fisherman. Ricardo has worked at Creativity Explored since 1996, taking time off from 2006 to 2010. He now attends CE three days per week and is highly committed to enhancing his practice and improving his skills. “I’m very happy to be back here again. I’m never going to leave this place again. This place is like my second home,” explained Ricardo. With a small lightning bolt tattoo on each of his wrists igniting his work, Ricardo certainly seems to be charged by an artistic drive that is not necessarily easily articulated or understood by onlookers.

For the exhibition Hands on Clay, Ricardo created Shiva and Ganesha clay figures. Both pieces are vibrant in color and beautiful in their imperfect imprecision. Most of Ricardo’s sculptures have the same wide, open, and almost vulnerable-looking eyes, which serve to “bring them alive.” His imaginative renderings of religious figures and events invoke a sense of the intangible and otherworldly. Ricardo’s parents influenced his art making. He explains, “Ever since they passed on, it was like they passed on their gift to me. That’s where I got it from.”

Submitted by Alex Fine, Oberlin College intern.


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