El Color del Fuego (Santiago, Chile – 2008)

LI         FUSED, FIRE

Fire rituals appear in each and every culture.
Much the same as water, fire is the symbol of transformation and regeneration, hence the gist of fire rituals as the magic that secures the generation of physical and spiritual light. Light spreads out, infuses human beings and its energy regenerates and purifies.

This time I chose ceramics as the proper means to touch feelings. Clay imposes a slow rhythm to stepwise advance on a long road. The time of ceramics is definitely not the time of life.
And that unavoidably slow course opens space for reflection.
It is a privilege to work with Earth, Water, Air and Fire, the four essential elements of our world, the elements of life.
Moreover, there is the tactile pleasure, the contact with matter, its engendering a healing conversation.

Timidly as an apprentice I observed the labor of fire until I felt I was prepared to construe and speak its language. I analyzed the kilns, the various firing kinds; high temperatures of up to 1,300 centigrade that enable most glazes; cone 5 firing for evaluating underglazes and pigments; anagama firing during five days with the ashes impregnating the piece, and finally my primeval firing for which I built my own wood-fired kiln, following the old-style high open-stack kilns that empowered my interacting with the alchemy of wood, fire and the various ashes.

My search for the origins, not merely for the primeval sources, but for the roots of our identity as nation led me to retrieve and apply the smoke-firing technique, and to experiment with the incorporation of herbs and other natural elements as a way to nurture Mother Earth.

The work I am presenting today thus is the result of an extended research that transformed my approach to our soil not only as landscapist at which I blend the species, shapes and colors at painting it, but shaping, palpating, burnishing, and impregnating it to confer on it another form of life and existence. Fire, shapeless and fusing, bestows color, heat and finally transforms us.

Keka Ruiz-Tagle

I met Keka Ruiz-Tagle in Santiago at a workshop I conducted at Ruth Kraskoph’s Huara Huara . I was impressed with her ambition, energy and fearlessness.  Her tremendous vitality to visualize her near-obsession with her horses and acrobatic riders was admirable.

Keka knew exactly what she wanted to do with clay, as she had fully developed her images in paintings and prints of vibrant colors.  Keka learned very quickly how to work with clay and took advantage of the material. Through form and subtle colors, the characters appear to express their individuality; even though they seem timeless and ageless, the surface and textures seem to reveal some kind of history.  Having both a sense of gravity and lightness, her horses and riders came out of her canvases into a real and believable space.  I imagined this place was a Horse Land where the horses are huge and strong, like the earth, and the people are small, secure and happy, like children.  The people show their affection of these earthy horses with their acrobatic dances. The contrast of the stability within in the clay form with the lighthearted movements feels nice.  It is like a carefree childhood that develops upon the stability of a mother’s consistent love.

Maybe I am a little envious of those people in the Horse Land.  In the real world, we wonder who will provide the consistent protection, care, and affection for us.  Can we find this trustworthiness in our planet, country, government, community, home or family?   If I were suddenly a member of this Horse Land, I wonder if I would be able to recognize this kind of safe happiness.  Would I learn to express myself physically that is open and joyful?  Perhaps the key is to sit back and look at Keka’s artwork and let myself escape into this land.  It will be easy to imagine myself as an innocent, tireless, happy man.


On Thursday, June 5th, Keka Ruiz-Tagle shows the results of a large research that guarantees a different way in her relation with soil.  As a landscaper she is used to work with soil mixing species, textures, shapes and colors.  As an artist, and through ceramics, she has now dared to mould it, impregnating in it her habitual color palette and so giving it another life.  This exhibition “El Color del Fuego”, in Artespacio Gallery proves this artist’s restless constitution in her search for new means (ways) to express her art.

Text, Mireya Diaz Soto Portrait, Juan Francisco Somalo Photographies, Dante Mellado Gentility Keka Ruiz-Tagle

Keka Ruiz-Tagle values the connection with the people in cities and urban life, but recognizes that she finds her centre in her relationship with land (earth or soil).  So when she needs peace and wellbeing she takes a bus that takes her to her place in Caburga. There she gardens and gardens in silence, until she is ready to go back to her urban rhythm of a thousand kilometers per hour.

The image of these sudden trips is that of a sudden going back to childhood.  Keka was raised in Chimbarongo until she was nine. No school but everyday experimental gardening throughout the farm. At 10, she had to get used to French lessons at Monjas Francesas School in Santiago, the big city. After overcoming this trauma, she thought nine years of liberty against one awful year was not a bad deal.  Through out the years she corroborated that what she wanted most in life was to study Art.

Everything happens gradually, one goes about opening doors.  I started painting and then suddenly thought I wanted to do collages, gather objects and assemble them with a new meaning.  As a child, I loved crystal lanterns; I remember the ones at my grandmother’s house and wanted to make magic boxes.  I made them for my exhibition “Atrapasueños” in 2002.  And then two things happened, first came the installment  of “Giros de Magia” in Bellas Artes Museum where I changed the Chile room into another big magic box , and secondly, felt that I had to learn to construct figures because I could not be limited to live with figures found by hazard.
What happens if I don’t find the figure?  For that I needed independence, something that has motivated me during all my life-explains Keka.

In the same gradual way I had gone from amateur gardening to professional landscaping.  One day her school friend, Barbara Said, invited her to be her partner: I said “how, I am not a landscaper” and she answered “You taught me all the plant’s names, you can design, know about colors and whatever; and you can study what you don’t know.”  Really, it has been great – remembering her decision 24 years ago.

Garden designing is a process where she focuses completely, although she goes on imagining ludic figures that have been present on and off throughout her career.  After her installment in Bellas Artes Museum, for which she received favorable commentary from critics, she has continued her thematic of horses, acrobats, magical and spiritual beings and heavenly rides.  But for this exhibition I wanted to “take the soil and work with it in a different way”.

I was fascinated with this material, but it was difficult because it’s speed doesn’t agree with my character’s speed.  I liked it precisely because it takes a time when you have to meditate, and you can not go quicker.
It is a time to regard the material, a pause to grow and establish a different relationship with it.  Also, an important part of my character is the interest for discovery.  I like the freedom of working with a new material because there is no personal reference of having done it before. Nothing! But you do have the liberty of starting again. This motivates and powers me, although it has been very difficult.

Three years ago she gave a great step in this experimental journey, thanks to a ten days seminary given by the Japanese ceramist and sculptor Akio Takamori.  Classes were held at HuaraHuara workshop-where Keka practices her work- and with him determined a constructive method through basic steps for her pieces that allowed them to hold up without to much weight.  From Keka’s work, Takamori wrote: “I was impressed with her ambition, energy and fearlessness.  Her tremendous vitality to visualize her near-obsession with her horses and acrobatic riders was admirable.”

But that was the first phase.  Then she had to experiment with pigments, glazes and firing temperatures, to enable her to achieve what she wanted:
Soil impregnated by color, no tone over tone, just what is necessary and natural.  My main interest has always been to redeem the figure and the feelings expressed.  The more earthly and ancestral feeling they convey, the bigger the emotional load
Searching for color tones she took the next step, succeeding in obtaining her “own” figures.  It was not just making gres, it had to convey my personal way.  She sent pieces to Anagama firing, an antique technique that takes five days with the ashes impregnating the pieces and leaving the firing impression.  “I went on firing in the workshop until I felt I needed to experiment other firing kinds in order to achieve what I wanted.  So I studied different kilns and finally built my own kiln in my mother’s farm in Llolleo where there are Eucalyptus trees…..a heavenly gift.

So you found your own method?

Yes, I watched the kiln and when the fire was ready, introduced the pieces, added oxides and experimented.  I felt I was mixing witches’ recipes that one read as a child.  It was not easy to carry raw pieces…but nevertheless, I was successful.

How did you imagine these beings and faces?

I have been working in the Chamanes theme.  Wisdom messages have always been found in earth.  I have always been impressed by millenary rites and medicines.  It is important to redeem this knowledge as well as many others.  This is why I looked for these characters from other times.

Haven’t you missed painting?

No, I was fascinated and concentrated in this and did not want to mix it with painting.  I have to many things in my head, including landscaping, where virtually you paint with species.

Do you use art tools such as textures, color and composition for your landscaping?  Does the opposite work?

I think colors of nature affect us.  We made a trip with some artists to the south when all the “lengas” were red.  I kept that tone in my head and did five or six paintings with the same intensity of that color.  I have never painted landscapes but have incorporated textures of nature such as leaves’ nervature.

Is timing important?  Does waiting for your gardens to grow help waiting for art times?

I don’t think so.  Working landscape projects, I jump the initial stage.  While I plan and plant, I can visualize how the garden will grow.  Landscaping has a beautiful part, each time you see the garden it is better, it is growing to be what you planed and imagined.  In some works there is deterioration, therefore disappointment.  In that sense I have no worries when working in ceramics if I can not continue working because the clay is wet.  Or if while painting I have to wait for the oil to dry.  In art I get more anxious because there are feelings mixed with unknown elements and cannot forsee the definite outcome of my work.

And you already know the species.

I know how they behave and how they will grow; I imagine the colors by the seaside and in the sand and the movement with the wind.  On the other hand in art you have an idea but you do not have complete control of the behavior during the evolution of your work.

Have you created continuity in your work through different materials, expressions and formats?  What binds them?

What do I want to transmit (or convey)?  To rescue the essentials, what is lasting,  magic.  It is also transmitting unsaid feelings.  All of these are in my work but expressed in different languages, some with more success but all of them opened.  I experience with different materials because I value the freedom of discovering new ways with no established limits.  There must be subtlety and no obvious message.

Keka Ruiz-Tagle exhibits again, this time in Artespacio gallery.  Not forgetting her interesting Merry-go-round, she now presents ceramics worked with sculptural sensibility.  Using the four essential materials: earth, water, air and fire, her work shows her personal images with great skill.  Ironic designs of the headworks belong to the expanded concept of sculpture according to Rosalind Krauss.

Ruiz-Tagle is formally contained. In these works one appreciates a wish (desire) to innovate, while bringing along the workshop spirit. Looking at these ceramic heads, we can associate them with some of her works through the soul and heart of these beings that are not reproductions of city dwellers; they are laboratory entities penetrating the inner soul.  The artist subdues (overcomes) the material, crosses the head’s grounds and enters the equine world, concentrating in another poetical way.  We face the artist’s versatility;  her quiet voice gives way to her creative passion.  Ruiz-Tagle has learned to stop in an act that sums up an artist’s maturity.

Ernesto Muñoz

She could not wait. Note even two years have passed and she has a new spectacular exhibition.  And when we say spectacular, we mean it, Keka doesn’t do anything lightly.  The best evidence of this is her last exhibit in Bellas Artes Museum, where she transformed the Chile room into a great music box full of color, movement and mostly magic.  This time it is a bit different.  “El Color del Fuego” shows us her sculptures in different formats, in which she shows her great new discovery: her passion for ceramics.  She told us everything started when setting the exhibit in MNBA. There she decided to realize her childhood dream, ceramic classes.  She arrived at the best place, Huara Huara workshop, where she slowly started her search.  It was a shy start, not mixing many colors nor modeling big figures, but soon gained confidence and had to construct her own kiln in order to be able to make thousands of the necessary trials for each work.  “I wanted to try, mix pigments, glazes, different oils and so I needed something of my own.”

Her theme has been the same throughout her career but has developed it in the most incredible and attractive ways: crystal boxes with figures inside, digital intervened paintings or installments with movement and music.  But as she says, the meaning is more important than the form. The message in her new work is rescuing men’s relationship with soil, with his roots, his traditions, his interior feelings and the ideas commonly forgotten by being connected to this modern world in which we live.  This time there is no difference, through the series of charming heads that seem to wear a hat on top,– but really have a far-reaching (transcendental) meaning, all the emotional feelings we have inside,–some horses and the figures of a man and a woman,  she was able to reflect the true identity.

“Ceramics are the adequate means to touch feelings where color is the language I use to express what I feel and the fire in the kiln is the engine that makes it possible.”  One way or another the process of  firing the pieces not knowing what colors will come out, depending on the temperature and time of the firing, turns this into an unknown magic process where you have an unforeseen result or surprise.  “All my work is about rescuing magic, that which we are not able to see each day, but is the essence of the human being.  With this project I want to open space for reflection, a deep and open reflection, where you need to stop and think again in order to bring out the best we have in our interior.”
ED Magazine

Ever since she started two decades ago with colorful paintings and etchings that alluded to human figures and life’s frolics or magic spins, Keka Ruiz- Tagle has been in search of the magic of ancestral rites, the liberation of the spirit and the incessant flow or pilgrimage of our thousand-year-old existence.

The artist, trained at the Catholic University of Chile, and at the Southern Methodist University School of Arts in Dallas, has shown her work at many individual and collective exhibitions in Chile and abroad.  Her exposition “Cartography to transcend” in 2005 revealed her first clay figures that featured the trail of her journey as well as the traces of the process of living.  Her training at Ruth Krauskopf’s Huara Huara ceramics workshop was not in vain.

Huara wara in aymará voice is the star that empowers the clarity of a cloudless sky of the universe’s night. And this was the case that linked ceramists and sculptors of different nationalities and pedigree who utilized earth as material, light and main beacon. Keka was one of them. Another one, the Japanese professor Akio Takamori wrote: “I met Keka Ruiz-Tagle in Santiago at a workshop I conducted at Ruth Krauskopf’s Huara Huara Taller de Cerámica. I was impressed with her ambition, energy and fearlessness. Keka knew exactly what she wanted to do with clay; Keka learned very quickly how to work with clay and took advantage of the material”.

Her formerly dreamscape-like, naive, merry-go-round horses, turning to music, magic, and dance, now have acquired an almost patriarchal and protective shape and volume.  And she also created enormous 60, 80-cm or larger heads, perhaps unconsciously and, not even resorting to Olmeca or Tibetan ancestors or to those of the even older African Nok culture of Nigeria of which there still exist vestiges,

We neither know whether the Buddhas, the sculptures of Ife – he old religious capital of the Yoruba- the Xian Terra Cotta warriors, or the impressive collection of Oba brass heads in Benin, which are considered as one of the great treasures of African art, resided with unexpected synchrony in Keka Ruiz-Tagle’ so unique, personal and scrutinizing imaginary in her current exhibition: “The Colors of Fire”.

“The Colors of Fire” granted her the privilege of in-depth research and more work than ever before with the four essential materials: earth, water, air and fire. “Fire and water rites appear in each and every culture  as the symbols of transformation that allude to magic and generation of  physical and spiritual light that regenerates and purifies” muses the artists.

“This time I chose ceramics as the proper means to touch feelings… The times of ceramics are definitely not the times of life… And that unavoidably opens the space for deep reflection. That was decisive for me.”

And she added “there is tactile pleasure, the contact with matter turns into a conversation and alchemy of wood, fire and ashes.
“I search for the origins and the traces of our identity. The work I present today is the product of an in-depth research of shape and volume as another form of life and existence” wrote the artist apropos of this exposition.

And this is what we see: Large horses, alone or accompanied by small human figures of equilibrists shaped by the hollowing-out technique applied in Africa even at the present time that consists in building hollowed molds.  “I did not like the hollowing-out so much as the superposition of the pieces, which facilitates the control of the figures, and was applied by the ancestral ceramists. This is how the antique horse was born and baked at 800 centigrade as well as a blue horse baked at 1,300 centigrade with glazing, pigment and further firing.”
Processing and research

On the porch of her home-cum-workshop, Keka set up a large table and worked day after day to create these figures, which until May were placed in rows on a window frame, on coffee, side and dining room tables, doorsteps, in the fireplace, occupying every space until parting to the furnace located in Llolleo. Keka gave each and every figure a name, linked to magic and primeval rites. As regards the process and research that originated this exhibition, the artist discloses indispensable details.

Once the figures have been shaped, how are they processed further by firing?

“Firing has always occupied the ceramists’ attention because of its mystery and power. Among the diverse firing procedures, the pieces I present today have been wood-fired in a traditional open-stack kiln.”

How long does the firing take?

“Anagama firing takes five days and the fly-ashes impregnate the piece in the course of the dome kiln process. I apply wood firing with pigments and oxides. Recording the process step by step including what was unexpected to repeat the effect means hard work, but it must be rigorously done so to systematize one’s own method. The working with your own kiln is somehow alchemistic. It involves observing knowing that one can interfere with –for instance, rice ashes (a millenary Japanese technique) I discovered in my search for antique processes. Nowadays some glazes are prepared with rice ashes”.

The heads and your figures stem from your painting?

“These figures stem from my painting, from the flat support, I passed from magic boxes to sculpture. The crowning headwears are not hats or turbans … but energy and thinking…

This is a decisive leap of your work, what triggered it?

“I was focused on my exhibition “Merry-go-round” (Giros de Magia) at the National Museum of Fine Arts, at the Interactive Mirador Museum (MIM), and now at the Art Gallery of the University of Concepción, but continuously thinking about the origins, the symbology of history, and working with clay, with soil. I have a strong link with soil. I was raised and have lived on farmland, the soil is integrating, something very special occurs between the soil and our hands, and that is why I began to work on magic and ancestral themes.”
“These are personages we have inherited, they had meanings. Their names have something supernatural, like a magician’s officiants. This is cartography to transcend. My entire work is the salvage of magic; figure and horse are an excuse for showing the stirring instant.”
How occurs the steady flow between hands and clay. . .

“In and outside, my hands blend clay and kiln and generate untemporal shapes. Everything is made by hand without fine tools. The eyes are graphic signals or cavities.  The paste I utilize comes from Spain in 8 to 10-kilo pouches.  I use it because it is the most adequate one for me and is easy to obtain. It is clay mixed with chamotte,

And how is the firing process itself?

“Low fire at first at kiln mouth and then one treats the piece with a pigment, salt, sulfur oxide, and observes the fire signals. How lucky one is to work with the four elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire!  An extraordinary bond arises, streaks, fading, creating many shapes. A person’s hat in the kiln is a pattern of sparkles and opacities.  As regards the horses …. They are healing, and are used as therapeutic means, because they are able to communicate themselves with human beings at fine level.  My motivation is to express myself by feelings, a matter that is part of my language with ceramics.  Close your eyes and touch the horse, you stroke the curve, the smoothness. Volume and color jointly with the research of smoke and the scent of firing are stimulating.”

What does one feel when all is done and one’s hands put down the work?

“I let the figures dry during fifteen days and then I take them to my kiln in Llolleo, while respecting the materials’ rhythm and times during the first and the second firing. I am now in this cycle and afterwards I shall continue researching and never lose the ludic feeling of discovery, of wonder. I love the unknown, I am fearless, and daring as regards the materiality that never lets one alone with what is stored in one’s memory.
Luisa Ulibarri

Keka Ruiz-Tagle’s Ceramics

A couple of years ago we had her great charming Merry-go-round; today, the artists Keka Ruiz -Tagle presents us her ceramics.  Twenty-four heads, half of them in medium format, the others in big size.  In contradiction with their native names, all of them are impregnated with Mediterranean sun.  Flashes of Picasso as ceramist also touch their faces.  Nevertheless, not for having bigger sizes, they can reach to be monumental.  We find most attractive the smaller figures of light complexion and chromatic contrast.  So, slightly reddish ochre or light brown colors, natural to the material, often sing responsively with beautiful vibrating colors.  This happens mainly when as curious headwears, they extend the upper portion of the heads.  Although not related to pre-Columbian figures, the same headwear becomes a vessel handle in the bigger pieces,.  A few of these big ones have a text, short and unnecessary.  On the other hand, if the pictorial condition of the artist can be fully appreciated in each work, at the same time- and probably not consciously- she makes of these figures a series of self-portraits.

Seven chubby horses, many with small acrobatic riders, complete the whole assembly.  If they remind us Mandiola, their condition of circus riders, accuses (denounces) the author’s individuality. The figure “Danza” stands up among these works, with its evocative childhood carrousel decorations.  Nevertheless, in this part of the exhibition, the coloring diminishes, favoring the natural material.

Notice in what measure the pictorial filiations of Keka Ruiz-Tagle favors her present horses, and above all, her ceramic heads.