The city of Compton isn't really synonymous with Ceramics, clay, or sustainable farming. But neither was Tennis before Serena and Venus came on the scene and let the world know. Our friend Ian Riccardo recently invited us to his studio in the back of his parents house where he grew up. He now uses the space to focus on his ceramics practice as well as writing music and a foray into sustainable farming. We sat down with him to learn more about his upbringing and how the area has shaped his perspective on creativity and life.
Ian for those of us that aren't too familiar with you and your work, please introduce yourself.
Whats up I’m Ian Riccardo Aguilar, you can call me Ian Riccardo. I’m 30, I live and make work in Los Angeles. Specifically in Compton, in the backyard of my childhood home. I mainly work in ceramics at the moment but I also draw, paint, take photos, write music, enjoy gardening, building community through art and love. If it's creative I want it in my life. It’s a bit of a burden but I'm never bored.
We always chat about how your upbringing and background is a big influence on your work. Care to speak more on that?
I'm a born and raised Angeleno from Compton. My parents are both from Mexico but immigrated here in the early 80’s. My dad is from Sinaloa and my Mom from Sonora . I spent a lot of time in Lynwood, Paramount and North Long Beach growing up. These cities shaped a lot of what my early childhood consisted of. As an adult a lot of what I witnessed and was a part of in my youth are now major themes in my current work.
You seem to have a solid grasp on the city as whole. Experiencing different barrios growing up, what would you say is your favorite thing about LA and the county as a whole?
The metro system, jk. Idk probably that it's home and I know it so well and all of its barrios. I’ve got friends and fam scattered all over the place so it makes it easy to make an action packed day on a whim. I also love the ocean for when I want to be alone. I can just go surfing and think.
Put us onto some of your favorite local food spots in the city.
Shout out to my Homie Christians restaurant Flavors from Afar in Little Ethiopia. Also Tacos El Negro in South Gate that specializes in “tacos al vapor”. Also my Fried Aaron runs the best burger pop-up in all of Los Angeles. They're called LoveHour check them out! Love you Aaron! He's one of my oldest friends, we grew up together.You described working in a ton of different mediums. What would you say is your favorite or what do you find yourself doing most of the time.
I don't really have a favorite medium. I know it's odd saying that because I predominately make work out ceramics but that's just what I’m into now. I paint and draw like most artists. Lately I've been getting a kick driving around my neighborhood in Compton seeing what I can use as a new material to work with. I’m currently harvesting corn cob headed to the landfill from my local Tamaleria and using them as a renewable building material to make sculptures. I’m mixing it with concrete to make “corn-crete”. I’ve been into sustainability and farming for over 10 years now and I had an epiphany last year while I was placing a clay order of a few thousand pounds . I thought to myself how sustainable is my art practice? All of this clay needs to then become fired and use a ton of electricity, where do these materials come from? Can I find something to build with that's local? And that's when I found corn. I’m also looking into bridging cutting edge tech like AR, VR, AND XR into my sculpture practice. Stay tuned for all of that.
I got a real "earthy" vibe from you when we first met. A lot of that makes sense once I saw your work and hearing you speak on it. Aside from the direct cultures you are referencing, who are some people that are inspirations to you?
My Grandfather Francisco Varela also known as “Paco” who was a bit of a renaissance man. He did it all, and was super talented at a very young age. He was painting like a master as a kid, some Leonardo DaVinci stuff. He was also a singer, composer, painter, sign painter, writer, poet, builder, he played multiple instruments. I can't imagine what he would have accomplished if he was born in my position. He taught me how to draw, play guitar, compose music, look at the world with extreme curiosity and most importantly taught me the power of laughter. When I moved back to my parents place to start my now sculpture studio it was under the same carport he worked and created under for over 20 years. Some of my biggest inspirations when I make work are Mesoamerican culture, ancient civilizations and their sculpture aesthetics. Some artists and creatives I'm currently drawing inspo from Ancient beehives, The Aztecs, surfboard shapers and artists like Huma Bhabha, Beatriz Cortez, Mike Kelley, Peter Doig, Ken Price, Ron Nagle, Georg Baseltz, Chris Burden, Wendel Castle, Luis Barragan.
I can always expect a late night text from you with some tunes I've never heard of. What are you constantly listening to while you're in the studio?
I’m listening to my homie Banana Leaf Boy’s new track “Hardly on my mind” and Billy Uomo’s Ep “Looking through Tears”. Some 45’s I’ve had sitting in a blue patent leather suitcase for 15 years. Here's a playlist for a more comprehensive look at what I’m listening to this month.
South LA isn't necessarily known for a lot of the creative scenes you operate in today. How did you find yourself exploring your interests when you were younger?
I was around art my entire childhood and I didn't realize how much of an impact it had on my life until I was in my early adulthood. I always found myself drifting away in my imagination about dinosaurs, creatures, robots, sci-fi. I did not have an interest in applying my imagination into a visual art form until my later teen years.However I did like applying my creativity for creative problem solving. Art is all reverse engineering and creative problem solving. Most of my time was preoccupied with organized sports. It was until My last two years in High School where I took my first ceramics class in which my ceramics teacher at the time showed me art from ancient civilizations up to modern art titans. This class in tandem with my literature class my senior year where we read books like: Brave New World and Roadside Picnic, Wuthering Heights, A Clockwork Orange. This is when I started realizing “class” and “capitalism” at this point I was still living in a naive dream. These sci-fi writers writing about dystopias in combination with an ancient art and civilizations class blew my top right open. It’s then I started to see the world for what it really was. I also realized I had free will. And things aren't always what they seemed to say the least. From early years I always asked questions that often got me into trouble. But it is this inquisitiveness that made me choose my own path. Growing up in the inner city (South Los Angeles) the narrative is about “getting out” or “making it outta the hood” the older I grow I continuously look at where I grew up for inspiration. The people, the products of culture and industry. The disparity of wealth and resources predominantly in housing, education, and food.I realized that our communities did not need to be fled from but healed. I felt I had to do something about it and so did my art. Before I started my path down becoming a fine artist while most of my friends were in art school something I had still no clue existed. I began an urban gardening collective called “LA Food Forest” a two man team of ambitious gardeners teaching anyone who would listen to permaculture” I loved learning practical survival skills like growing your own food and high quality food at that. It was revolutionary. Especially to people who, 1 don't have access to that type of information and if they do they don't have access to land. I started this journey of healing through cultivating a garden. I then opened it up to the community to empower my community. It was in this process that I realized 1.) liked to teach, and 2.) I liked building things. We would drive around to build benches and tables for our classes held in my parents backyard. A 1/10th of an acre lot pinned between 4 properties that had been completely neglected and decertified. Although serious societal issues were being addressed in such a small space I also wanted to grow in another capacity and I realized I liked making art and designing. I then applied to work for artists helping them grind metal, wood, then onto more complex fabrication skills like lost wax casting, mold making, furniture design, production pottery, 3d design, pottery, sewing, etc…. I lost sight of the garden and was a full fledged fine art fabricator. Although I learned a lot I then knew I didn't want to waste my time and creativity on making other artists rich anymore. I learned so much from my fellow peers who were all art graduates and architecture students. I learned how they were dissatisfied with art and education and that fabricating unless you were absolutely rich were the proving grounds. I also realized how different all of our lives were. I worked as a fine art fabricator until I switched over to teaching ceramics full time that was around 5 years ago.
My upbringing as a first generation Mexican American from the inner city has given me a unique perspective of not only Los Angeles but the art world in general. I grew up with the usual huge family, lots of family parties, and great Spanish music. My grandparents and uncles were all artists and musicians from Mexico so they brought that richness with them. But for some reason when I was younger it was the music from my dad's side of the family, from Sinaloa that really caught my attention. Listening to corridos from Chalino Sanchez was just a given. Raised in Lynwood by my aunt, my dad's older sister. While my parents were off to work I stayed at her house and music from Sinaloa was always on in the background. Slow songs of heartbreak and sombre existence, or get rich and get out kind of songs. Also with sprinkling or narco cartel songs.
You are mostly known for your ceramics but is there any other mediums you’d like to explore outside of that?
I’ve been exploring making building materials out of recycled organic waste. I’ve also been exploring working and incorporating AR, VR, XR, and stained glass to my sculpture practice.
That being said what can the world expect from you next?
I’ve been working on a new series of work sculptures and paintings. I also started recording my first LP. I’m also working on some cool collabs with some great brands in 2022.