Ralph Bacerra

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Ralph Bacerra
File:Bacerra and Heino.jpg
Ralph Bacerra and Vivika Heino at Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles, 1958, unidentified photographer. Ralph Bacerra papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Born 1938
Garden Grove, California
Died June 10, 2008
Los Angeles, California
Nationality American
Education Chouinard Art Institute
Known for Ceramics

Ralph Bacerra (1938, Garden Grove, California - June 10, 2008) was a ceramic artist and career educator. He lived and worked in Los Angeles, California.

From 1959 to 1961, Bacerra was a student at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, where he studied under the celebrated ceramist and educator and Vivika Heino. Bacerra joined the U.S. Army in 1961, returning in 1963 to find the position of chairperson of the ceramics department at Chouinard left open by Vivika Heino. Bacerra occupied this position there from 1963 to 1971, at which point Chouinard was renamed the California Institute of the Arts and moved to Valencia, California. After this move in 1971, the ceramics department was dropped from the school’s curriculum, and Bacerra went to work full-time in his studio. Bacerra is credited with important technological innovation in advanced ceramics, most notably resulting in his development of oven-top ranged surfaces for the Induction Stove Corporation that featured the use of electromagnetic induction. Bacerra returned to teaching in 1983, this time accepting an offer from the Otis Art Institute to be chairperson of the ceramics department. This department was founded at Otis by influential artist Peter Voulkos. Bacerra was chair of this program until 1997. His teaching approach focused more on the development of technical proficiency and experience with materials than on conceptual concerns. He had only one kidney.

The artwork of Ralph Bacerra is recognizable by its vivid use of color and contrast, which are the result of a delicate and multi-staged process of overglazing. He is also known for geometrically complicated and technically difficult forms. His decorative aesthetic draws from Asian sources, most notably Japanese Imari and Kutani pieces, Persian miniatures, and Chinese Tang ceramics. The surface imagery of Bacerra’s sculptures is design-conscious and draws comparisons to M.C. Escher’s grid techniques and use of positive and negative space, as well as to the geometric sensibility and creation of movement and space associated with Vassily Kandinsky. Bacerra has insisted upon an absence of metaphor:

“I’ve never really thought of my work in post-modern terms. But I suppose in many ways it fits the definition. My pieces are based on traditional ideas and engage in certain cultural appropriations—in form, in design, in glaze choices. However, my work is not post-modern in the sense that I am not making any statements—social, political, conceptual, even intellectual. There’s no meaning or metaphor. I’m committed more to the idea of pure beauty. The finished piece should be like an ornament, exquisitely beautiful.”

He died of lung cancer Tuesday, June 10, 2008, at his home in Eagle Rock, near Los Angeles.


File:Baccera Teapot.jpg
Teapot, 1989, earthenware with lusters by Bacerra in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
  • Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe
  • Bates Gallery, Edinboro State College, Edinboro, Pennsylvania
  • Cooper Hewitt Museum, New York
  • Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York
  • John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin
  • Krannet Art Museum, Champaign, Illinois
  • Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, California
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
  • M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco
  • Mint Museum of Craft + Design, Charlotte, North Carolina
  • The Museum of Contemporary Ceramic Art, Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, Shigaraki, Japan
  • Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York
  • Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
  • National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan
  • Newark Museum of Art, Newark, New Jersey
  • The Oakland Museum, Oakland, California
  • Racine Art Museum, Racine, Wisconsin
  • Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York
  • Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • The White House, Washington, D.C.
  • Wichita Art Museum, Wichita, Kansas


  • Clark, Garth (1999). Ralph Bacerra: A Survey. New York: Garth Clark Gallery. pp. 22–23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lauria, Jo (1994). "A Profile of Artist Ralph Bacerra". Ceramics: Art and Perception (15).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lloyd, Frank (April 12–19, 2004). "Interview with Ralph Bacerra". Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project For Craft and Decorative Arts in America.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lynn, Martha Drexler (1990). Clay Today: Contemporary Ceramists and Their World. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Chronicle Books. ISBN 0-87701-756-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Herman, Lloyd E. Art that Works: Decorative Arts of the Eighties Craft In America. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1990.
  • Lauria, Jo. Color and Fire: Defining Moments in Studio Ceramics, 1950–2000. Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. 2000.
  • Levin, Elaine. The History of American Ceramics from Pipkins and Bean Pots to Contemporary Forms. New York City: Harry N. Abrams, 1988.

External links