Diablito, a fine young Devil, by Oro
Oil painted Terracotta, 44 x 36 x 27 cm
Ofir Hirsh, 2009

While I consider myself a self taught artist because indeed I taught myself painting, I did learn how to work with clay from a very special Dominican artist called Jesus Guillen, who became my friend and to whom I dedicate this post.
The beginning of 2009 was quite experimental for me; I formed figures with metal wire and masks with Paper Mache. I carved in a variety of local woods, scratched some higueros (gourds), and I also became curious about working with clay. In one of my trips to Santo Domingo, I decided to drive through Yamasa, a town which I never visited before and is an hour drive from Santo Domingo. I figured I might find there some clay to work with, as friends who purchased a few sculptures there told me about a local family who produces terracotta items in a traditional manner, and I saw their products in tourist shops around the country.
Entering Yamasa, I stopped my Jeepeta on the main road next to two young women on a motorcycle, and asked them if they know the family who produces terracotta sculptures. Smiling, they responded: “Of course, everybody knows the Guillen brothers, they are great people. We are going in that direction, just follow us”.
A few big Taino Gods figures welcomed me in the entrance. It was a big green compound, with a few houses, shacks and shades spread under impressive big trees. I walked between them, until I heard voices coming from a colorful structure. A Dominican guy wearing a white doctors jacket was explaining about the sculpting process and about the Taino culture to a few tourists . I found his answer on what they do if the ceramic sculpture breaks particularly interesting. He explained how they fix it during a traditional ceremony they conduct to heal the wounds of the Taino Gods, and he was very convincing.
When the tourists left I approached him and introduced myself: “My name is Oro. I am an artist from Las-Terrenas”. He shook my hand: “I’m honored to meet you. My name is Jesus (pronounced He-soos in Spanish) . I am an artist and one of the Guillen brothers. Our family runs this place for a few generations”.
After the small talk, I told him that I’m looking to buy some clay, and Jesus kindly explained to me that they only sell sculptures, not crude clay. I was quite disappointed and thanked him anyway for his kindness. We kept talking a bit more. He was curious about Las-Terrenas and about Israel and what an Israeli guy is doing in Las-Terrenas, and I was curious about their work, the clay they use and the Taino culture. He later showed me around the complex and explained their traditional sculpting process. Impressed I said: “It looks so much fun, I really wish I could get my hands on some clay sometime soon”. Jesus laughed and told me : “No worries Oro, I promise you get out of here today with just enough clay”. Smiling like a child I told him: “Thank you so much! charge me whatever you like”. And still laughing Jesus replied: “Oro, we have our own mine of clay, so thanks, but I will not take anything from you, we are friends now…and if you like, since you told me you never worked with clay before, I can show you briefly a few techniques that will help you work correctly”. “Thanks” I replied, “…but what do you mean by working correctly?”. He then mentioned a few important principles and examples. One example I remember very well was: “If you leave any air bubbles inside the sculpture, it will explode into pieces in the kiln”.
He took a big chunk of clay and after pounding it on the floor a few times, he began playing with it; kneading, cutting, shaping, connecting and in between explaining: “…If you want to make a cup, I will show you 3 techniques, then you could utilize the one you like best, or even better, practice all 3 of them…”
After the “lesson” he took a shovel, uncovered a mound of clay and started digging. He gathered big chunks, rolled and wrapped them in a black nylon sac to keep the humidity. After a few rounds to my baggage, I told him “Jesus, thank you so much, I think it’s enough”. He then offered me to come back with the sculptures I will make so that he will fire them for me in their big kiln.
So, a few weeks later I came back to Yamasa with 13  clay sculptures I made, and on another occasion I picked them after the firing. I made it a habit; every once in a while, before or after a trip to Santo Domingo, I used to visit Jesus and his family in Yamasa; taking more clay, leaving my ready sculptures, or taking home the fired ones. I always had questions: “Why did the neck of my figure pinch?…Why did the leg break? How did a flat base become curved? How do I build higher figures? etc. Jesus always took the time to explain what I can improve or show me another technique that he knows. We hanged out together, and drank a lot of Beer and Rum together. When I accepted his invitation to work in their studio, he always insisted that I join them to eat all the meals with him, his brother Manuel and their families. Jesus always made me feel at home and never asked for anything but my friendship. I was very fortunate to meet him and I will always be grateful to him.