September 30, 2017
Text and Images by Kyle Beechey
Dora De Larios is a tour de force of a woman. At age 84, she is in her studio and at work every day. “It is what has kept me alive”, she says with regards to her daily practice and her two battles with cancer. Her relentless perseverance and unwavering desire to create have allowed her to push past many an obstacle that has stood in her path. De Larios’s is now finally able to see the fruits of her labor as her work is currently included in LACMA’s Pacific Standard Time, an ambitious investigation of Latin American art in dialogue with California throughout the twentieth century.
De Larios’s near six-decade career began when she was a sophomore at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles. She was introduced to ceramics through art class. Possessing a natural aptitude, she would often stay well after school to devote extra time to her work. Her journey into taking art beyond a teenage hobby was established when a teacher, unbeknownst to her, entered her work in a nationwide competition. De Larios took home the top prize and received a full scholarship to Cranbrook. She was eager to attend, but unfortunately her family’s traditional Mexican values prevented her from doing so.
“There is a part of me in everything I do”
College kept her closer to home at USC where she studied ceramics with Vivika and Otto Heino. A self-described “odd duck”, she surrounded herself with a diverse group of friends consisting predominantly of exchange students. Upon graduating she established her own studio on Irving Place with fellow USC alumni Ellice Johnson. It became a creative hub for Los Angeles throughout the 1960’s.
The next chapters of her life were marked by travel that spanned from remote Tahitian islands to Tokyo. She was fortunate to spend two months in Japan that have had a long lasting impact. The culture’s reverence for nature, the kindness of the people and exceptional food all culminated to an important source of inspiration for her work.
These travels and her Mexican American heritage have influenced her work and have often motivated her to explore mythological and botanical themes. Formally, her work has taken many shapes, from functional ceramics to large-scale sculptures, from figurative to minimal and a spectrum of colors and glazes. One attribute that has remained constant is her devotion to keeping everything handcrafted. So much so, that her creative process can occasionally be guided by the hand to clay connection. The medium’s behavior continues to have the ability to surprise her.
In 2012, De Larios embarked on another stage in her career. With the encouragement and support from her daughter, Sabrina Judge and son-in-law, Aaron Glascock, Irving Place Studio was reincarnated. The objective was to serve as a studio for De Larios, but also produce a line of functional ceramics. The now coveted collection began with a simple drinking bowl and has now gone on to include dinnerwear, vases, and decorative vessels. Due to the popularity of the collection, there is constant pressure to produce a higher quantity, but IPS' devotion to quality has kept the collection in limited production. Their technique requires each piece to be worked on 12 times by hand.
De Larios’s iron-will has been a determining factor in her success. It has allowed her to continue to make work even with setbacks. She witnessed her male counterparts have meteoric rises at the outset of her career and yet that did not deter her. She became her strongest advocate. A role which led her to march into a prestigious gallery and pitch her own work, as well as correct those who mistook her art as her husband’s. Even today as the representation of female artists in museums continues to be dwarfed by men, De Larios can at times feel powerless in her ability to make change. Despite this, she presses on and continues to make the work, hoping that with time this will change. She can see small changes afoot and sees some promise that it will continue. Let’s hope it is sooner than later.
De Larios’s work is included in Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915–1985, a branch of Pacific Standard Time at LACMA in Los Angeles from September 17th, 2017 to April 1st, 2018.