Aliens, mushrooms, and Grace Jones, oh my! Edwin Vera doesn’t pertain to one theme when he creates art — he wants to dabble in it all. His Greenpoint studio is an amalgamation of different types of art and influences. It’s wonderfully eclectic and a bit unpredictable. What will Edwin Vera create next? Who knows, but it’ll be fun to find out!
Born in Williamsburg to Latino parents (his dad is Puerto Rican and his mom is Panamanian), art is something that Vera has always dabbled with when young. He was always interested in sculpting and pottery. He would use plaster that he would get from the cabinets to make little sculptures. Play-Doh didn’t work so well for him, as it wasn’t permanent like plaster.
Williamsburg was a bit rough around the edges while Vera was growing up, but he still had a ”typical NYC” upbringing. He feels fortunate for the education he received, as he was able to do art through middle school. In high school, he did a pottery program for teens at this place called The Door and took Saturday classes at Cooper Union, as well as weekend art classes at Pratt Institute through his industrial design teacher at Brooklyn Tech. They all helped him craft a portfolio for art school.
“I just always enjoyed working with my hands. I used to even sew, sew little figures…I remember growing up, my parents…bought those lamps with the figurine. I would make little molds of their faces,” said Vera.
After high school, Vera was tired of doing math so he applied to art schools (Cooper Union, Rochester, NYU and School of Visual Arts). He didn’t think he was going to get into Cooper Union since it was selective, but he did. Although he didn’t get to pursue pottery like he had hoped, he did the next best thing, which was to major in sculpting.
His parents were and continue to be very supportive. His mother helps him store his pottery so that Vera doesn’t break it. Vera has two sisters who are also supportive; The eldest, Carolyn, is a photographer and artist. She has taken pictures of his art and told him about The Door in high school. His other sister, Catherine, owns a coffee shop where she hosts artist events, painting parties and live music. But his mother’s only qualm was when he graduated from Cooper Union; what was he going to do for a job?
Luckily, Vera was able to take ceramics classes through Parsons, where Cooper Union students could take electives. It was also through Parsons that he found his job as a ceramic designer and sculptor at famed design brand Jonathan Adler. His professor knew Adler personally and introduced the two of them. Adler needed someone who could make bowls and that was something Vera could do. He also helps him paint the pottery that Adler throws on the wheel.
Vera thinks Adler is a really good wheel thrower. Vera on the other hand still hasn’t quite mastered it yet. He knows the basics but, regardless, he is having fun and loves his job. He didn’t think he would have been working with Adler for this long but it’s been 20-plus years and counting.
“It’s just coming up with it [art] at the beginning… something in your head and seeing it in 3-D is so incredible to me and then the end result when you finish,” said Vera.
He loves seeing what he creates for better or worse. To Vera, arts and sculpture “means bringing to life the artist’s inner thoughts and views of their own little world or larger world depending on what they want to express.”
Vera does not always sketch out one of his many fantastical ideas beforehand, often starting from scratch and using his imagination. He is inspired by supermodels such as Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, and Grace Jones. He used to be intrigued by commercials and images of them growing up and just felt compelled to put them on pottery and to sculpt their faces.
Sculpting faces, sea urchins or cool colorful, fairytale mushroom houses that his dog, Ozzie, sleeps in, are not the only thing Vera does. Vera is also experimenting with making jewelry. He’s made this gorgeous necklace constructed of different eyeballs in a pyramid type formation. Vera reminisced on how his mother would tell him and his sisters how to ward off the evil eye. Similarly his Latino background is what led him to also make an native Incan-type inspired headdress with its golden loops and coins.
“For me being a Latin artist, especially [a] clay artist, I feel is like carrying on tradition. I think we have a long history with clay, the native art and the Spanish art. The Spanish were well known with the talavera tiles and other ceramics. That has always inspired me and so has the ‘artesania’ ceramic arts and other crafts from Latin America,” said Vera to Greenpointers.
A lot of things he constructs are based on mythologies, creatures, peoples, and just things he finds interesting. And there’s a lot he finds interesting, from the book Art Forms in Nature by Ernst Haeckel that he showed me to the ocarina instrument he made and played. Vera also has pieces that would fit in a museum or the throne rooms of ancient Egypt and long ago empires like the Byzantine.
On a more technical level, he is influenced by Gustav Klimt with all the gold in his work. Surrealist and Hispanic artists like Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington and Frida Kahlo are also influential to him and the whimsical things he creates.
He even combines his painting with his sculpting. He makes decals with his photographs on pottery (which he recently learned to do with a laser printer) but before then he would just paint the decal portrait of a pet or a person on the pottery. For his Grace Jones painting, he plans to recreate her iconic golden eyeshadow look with ceramics and then glaze it to give it a mirror-finished look.
When speaking with Vera, he takes thing in stride and always has a smile or an infectious laugh as he tells me about his work, like the one time the fire department had to come because the kiln he used had set off the alarm or the time one of his pieces was at a Tennessee gallery, Elephant Gallery, for ugly clay. He was quite proud of that one.
All in all, Vera wants to do it all and or at least try it all. For example, he may not be a great photographer (in his words) but he loves to take photos. He is a part of an exhibition in Pennsylvania now called “MICROCOSM: A Little World” at Wayne County Arts Alliance, running from August 12 – September 24. Vera has sold some of his work in the past, such as lot of his Grace Jones works and portraits of pets (Vera has three dogs himself). But he is looking to finally utilize his Etsy and put his work on there. He wants to sew more as well.
Vera continues to be a renaissance man, dabbling in what he can. So look out for him and all the wonderful avant-garde things he has to offer, maybe they could be your next piece of home decor or wearable item?