[Editor's note: An exposition of the work of Cuenca cermacist Eduardo Segovia opens tonight at Larrazabal Gallery on San Sebastian Plaza and continues through mid-May. The show features new work by the artist and is titled "Compositions Between Black and Grey."]
As a child, clay got Eduardo Segovia into trouble but later helped to support his family. As an adult, it was the stuff that shaped his reputation as Ecuador’s greatest sculptor.
When he was six, Segovia was almost kicked out of school because of his love for clay. When he refused to stop playing with it, teachers suggested to the headmaster that he be expelled for disobedience and distracting his classmates. Fortunately for Segovia, the headmaster was Carlos Crespi, the Italian-born Salesian monk, anthropologist and archeologist. Crespi decided that Segovia’s talent should be encouraged and transfered him to a school specializing in the arts.
By the time he was 10, Segovia’s works in clay had lifted his family out of poverty. The young artist made and sold hundreds of clay whistles each week and, even though each whistle sold for pennies, his sales produced enough income for a comfortable family income.
In his 60-year career, Segovia’s work encompasses a stunning range of styles and themes, ranging from the Incan and Aztec and those of other pre-Columbian cultures, to Aftrican, Spanish and Italian. Much of his work is also based on his childhood imgination.
Segovia credits the breadth and diversity of his work to the fact that he is primarily self-taught. "I have no formal training. My teachers have been books and works of art I have seen in person.”
One of the highlights of Segovia’s career was working with Ecuador’s most famous 20th century artist, Oswaldo Guayasamin. He assisted the famous painter on several projects, including large murals displayed in public spaces around Ecuador. When Guayasamin died in 1999, his family asked Segovia to complete work on two unfinished murals at Quito's Chapel of Man.
Although Segovia says he has been influenced by a number of prominent artists, including Picasso and Miro, it has been the themes close to home –and close to the earth– that have had the greatest impact on his work. “Where I came from is critical for me. The "cholito" influence will always be dominant. In my work, I never forget my roots, and I never forget my beautiful chola mother. To her I owe my life and my inspiriation.”
Segovia is perplexed that many young Ecuadorian artists seem fixated on European and North American themes and fail to see the richness around them. “It makes me sad that they look thousands of miles away for their inspiration and don’t see the treasurers of their native land. Just like the fabulous potter's clays found near Cuenca, they should take advantage of the materials that surround them.”
In April, Segovia visited the Netherlands to exhibit his work and to teach his craft. He taught 60 graduate ceramics students in the workshop of noted Dutch sculptor Marié Verdijk. His work and teaching were the subjects of a Dutch television documentary, showcasing not just his artistry, but his enthusiasm and sense of humor.
Some of the works displayed at Larrazabal are for sale and Segovia has made sure they are affordable. “I can sell my sculptures for thousands of dollars in Europe and North America but I want my fellow Cuencancos to be able to buy them too. It brings me great pleasure to know that my work is in the homes of my friends.” Prices for his work begin a $75 and go to about $500.
Reflecting on his career at age 71, Segovia appreciates the symmetry of his life. “I hope to continue working for many years but I will never forget the basics of my life and work. I came from mud, I work in mud, and when I die, I will return to mud.”
Photo captions: Eduardo Segovia at work in the 1990s; his work exhibited last year at CIDAP.