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Jaime Guerrero Breathes Life to Glass

Glassblowing | Johannes Wredenmark, Unsplash
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This is produced in partnership with Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles.

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Jaime Guerrero at work | Aimee Santos
Jaime Guerrero at work | Aimee Santos

The work of Jaime Guerrero is truly one of a kind.  Fine art is filled with glass blown objects but few artists have been able to achieve glass-blown human subjects, the hallmark of Guerrero’s artwork and career.  Featured from August 26th to October 7th at the Craft in America Center as a part of Pacific Standard Time:LA/LA, Guerrero’s “Broken Dreams” series showcases four glass tots representative of the international crisis of refugees particularly those seeking asylum in the United States from Central America. 

As news accounts stream onto our social media feeds, televisions and radios about crises regarding these immigrants boarding the infamous La Bestia or El Tren de la Muerte (The Train of Death) from Central America to the US border in hopes of a safer existence, our national discourse has become simplified into a debate regarding the pros and cons of immigration.  In response, Jaime Guerrero’s work has humanized these migrants and refugees and granted its own assertions about the realities of international migration and the dialogue surrounding it. The “Broken Dreams” series pays particular attention to the place of immigrant children. These minors in glass are darkly reminiscent of Norman Rockwell’s extraordinary detail to children in his oil paintings. Guerrero’s transparent tots are lifelike in their glass chanclas (flip flops) and their disturbingly recognizable hair styles from any given playground or classroom remind each of us that we too could easily find ourselves and our children displaced.  Each child is blind-folded representing the uncertainty of the travels of refugees; and, their glass make-up reinforces both the fragility of life as a migrant seeking asylum as well as their invisibility within the nations they seek to gain refuge.  Adding further humanity to the series is a wall of narratives written by Los Angeles children with histories of asylum seeking and international migration. 

When talking to Jaime Guerrero, his passion for justice issues are as clear as his artistic subjects.  He asserts that he wants this work to address the issue of the tens of thousands of Central American children whom, in his opinion, are “not properly served” in American detention centers.  In warehouse-like facilities reflective of prisons, these children are often detained for extended periods of time with little activity and ongoing uncertainty about their futures.  Some of the children in immigrant detention centers have even reported physical and sexual abuse. 

"Broken Dreams" by Jaime Guerrero | Cesar Corona
Jaime Guerrero, Broken Dreams, 2017. Life-sized glass figures of refugee children.  | Cesar Corona

Jaime Guerrero, Farm Worker, 2013. Life-sized glass work | Courtesy of the artist
Jaime Guerrero, Farm Worker, 2013. Life-sized glass work | Courtesy of the artist

Many of his earlier collections illuminate similar political concerns like the exploitation of migrant labor and the trauma of high rates of incarceration amongst Latino and black men in America.  Guerrero’s interest in such issues stems from his upbringing in Boyle Heights.  With parents from Zacatecas, Guerrero found himself exposed to a diversity of immigrant experiences in America.  His father was a respected chef and he and each of his siblings showed artistic inclinations early in life.  Still, he witnessed American inequity “firsthand.”  Upon his completion of high school, he attended the California College of the Arts but struggled to have his perspective valued as a Latino artist.  It was during this time he “understood the privilege of being in a college atmosphere” but felt the pull to return to his home community and expose youth to fine arts education. 

“The glowing glass is like honey but looks like lava.” 

Bringing the medium of glass back to communities like Boyle Heights and Watts was not a simple feat.  In Guerrero’s words, “Glass is an exclusive medium.”  It requires furnaces that burn 24 hours a day, which means high utility bills to maintain — a luxury few community arts centers are able to provide.  What ultimately brought him back to Los Angeles after many years in the Bay Area was the opportunity to oversee the re-ignition of a glass blowing furnace in Watts after a period of dormancy.  The years-long desire to bring glass blowing as an artistic medium to an underserved community finally became his reality.  Though Guerrero’s art reflects the experiences of people of color through series like “Homies in Glass” and “Charros y Sus Caballos,” his teaching of glass blowing creates a conduit for young people to tell their own stories in glass.  He notes that it, unlike other mediums, glass is seductive to young people, particularly young men in hardened communities.  “The glowing glass is like honey but looks like lava.”  Glass blowing through Guerrero’s and his eyes and the eyes of his students is beautiful and dangerous.  Guerrero boasts of having taught over 500 children glass blowing while in Watts and noted that those he and other arts organizations could reach before the age of twelve often “avoided full socialization into street life.”  Unfortunately, the glass blowing studio lost funding for a spell which led him to raise money through a Kickstarter campaign to open a similar studio in Boyle Heights.   

Jaime Guerrero demonstrates one of the greatest powers any artist can ever wield — the ability to seamlessly blend art with social justice and action.  While he has spent his career molding his political and cultural passions into highly refined glass objects, he can also testify to the many lives of young people he has had a part in molding and refining.  Amidst residencies from  prestigious arts foundations like the Corning Museum of Art (at the Amphitheater) and awards from the Bay Area Glass Institute, he speaks with the most pleasure about the students he has trained in his craft, particularly those who now teach glass blowing across the city in an effort to expose as many young people as possible to such a rarified art form.

"Chuy & His Pit" (7″W x 18″H x 7″D) and "Maya" (7″W x 19″H x 6.5″D) by Jaime Guerrero | Courtesy of the artist PST LA LA
"Chuy & His Pit" (7″W x 18″H x 7″D) and "Maya" (7″W x 19″H x 6.5″D) by Jaime Guerrero | Courtesy of the artist PST LA LA
"Mario" (8″W x 13″H x 5″D) and "El Descarado" (6″W x 14″H x 7″D) by Jaime Guerrero | Courtesy of the artist PST LALA
"Mario" (8″W x 13″H x 5″D) and "El Descarado" (6″W x 14″H x 7″D) by Jaime Guerrero | Courtesy of the artist PST LALA
 "Broken Dreams" by Jaime Guerrero | Cesar Corona
"Broken Dreams" by Jaime Guerrero | Cesar Corona
 "Broken Dreams" by Jaime Guerrero | Cesar Corona
"Broken Dreams" by Jaime Guerrero | Cesar Corona
Detail of "Broken Dreams" by Jaime Guerrero | Cesar Corona
Detail of "Broken Dreams" by Jaime Guerrero | Cesar Corona

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Top Image: Glassblowing | Johannes Wredenmark on Unsplash

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