The multicultural art of Dora De Larios

Ceramic artist Dora De Larios knows the exact moment when she began the journey that led to her current retrospective, "Sueños/Yume: Fifty Years of the Art of Dora De Larios," at the Craft and Folk Art Museum on Wilshire Blvd. She was eight years old and saw the historic Aztec calender stone at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Struck by its power, she instantly felt connected to her Mexican ancestry. From that point on, she knew she would become an artist.

The CAFAM exhibit's name uses the Spanish and Japanese words for dreams. Born in downtown Los Angeles in 1933 to Mexican immigrants, De Larios grew up with Latino and Nisei neighbors. After Dorsey High School and studying ceramics and sculpture at USC, she opened her first studio in Los Angeles. Exposure to Japanese culture at an early age was a key influence. It "set the stage for relationships with other cultures later on," says De Larios.

A 13-month trip around the world in 1963 included stops in Japan, Hong Kong, Nepal, East Africa, and Egypt, and further broadened her knowledge and love of world cultures.

De Larios has had a "lifelong interest in the divine, its symbolism and its interpretation in various cultures," says CFAM guest curator Elaine Levin. "She offers us an extraordinary world of whimsical yet confident animals, loving friends, family. Interspersed in this colorful melange are the mystical forces of life, embodied by mythological creatures and goddesses which fuel the artists imagination." De Larios works not just in clay, but uses wood, plastic and steel in some pieces.

delarios.jpgDe Larios also does commissions for public and private spaces in California, the U.S., and internationally. Architect Lisa Landworth, of Landworth Debolske Associates on Wilshire, met De Larios in 1987 when her client, Alan Sieroty, "had the idea of integrating the work of an artist into the façade remodel of his building at 6022 Wilshire, in the heart of the Miracle Mile. An unfortunate remodel done in the 1960's had obliterated the building's Art Deco roots."

De Larios was chosen for the commission since her medium of ceramic tile sculpture, and her geometric design concept, perfectly meshed with the desire to recall the original Art Deco style. "Dora's tile installation provided a dramatic bas relief focal point that successfully integrated fine arts with architecture," says Landworth.

De Larios continues to be inspired by travel, world culture and her hometown. "I love the vitality of Los Angeles, the different cultures and enclaves. You can really get lost here," she says.

A favorite spot is the Greek Orthodox church near Normandie and Venice Boulevard. But she makes it very clear that her favorite place to be is her studio on Venice in Culver City. With a smile she says, "I work, and I work, and I work some more."

"Sueños/Yume: Fifty Years of the Art of Dora De Larios" is on view at CAFAM through Jan. 10, 2010.

Top photo: courtesy of Dora De Larios
Photo of De Larios: Judy Graeme

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