Earth meets sky in ceramicist’s exhibition celebrating the cosmos

Inspired by the “Pillars of Creation,” a formation of cosmic dust and gas in a far off nebula, these three ceramic sculptures by Nova Guillen are now on display at Sul Ross State University. Photo courtesy of Sul Ross State University

ALPINE – Nova Guillen’s Bachelor of Fine Arts exhibition, Ad Astra Per Aspera, is on display now at Sul Ross State University. The show’s name is drawn from a Latin phrase meaning “to the stars through hardships,” and Guillen has developed their craft through their years spent studying at the Alpine university. The culmination is a show that brings together their passion for molding material from the ground below into mugs, tiles, lamps and abstract sculptures that celebrate the vast expanse above.

Guillen is an El Paso native, and from a young age became fascinated by outer space, but when they arrived at Sul Ross in 2016, they were intent on pursuing pre-veterinary medicine. “I did a year of it and it wasn’t my thing,” they said. 

Instead, their first night at Sul Ross helped connect them to what would soon become the driving theme of their art. “I was so happy when I spent my first night out here and could just see, even at the school, so many more stars than I had ever seen back home,” they said.

Art was a hobby for Guillen, but after walking away from the pre-veterinarian program, “I decided to try my hand at a career in art,” they explained. “I took a ceramics class and I fell in love with it, how intimate it is. You make a piece and you give it away or sell it and somebody has a piece of what you made, your time, your effort. You put love into it and that’s what attracted me to ceramics,” they said.

From there, the artist was making tiles, mugs and other functional pottery that has day-to-day use, with cosmic-inspired colors and painted constellations. As they continued their studies, it led them to making lamps, with constellations carved out, so that the light can shine through and project the stars onto the nearby walls and ceiling.

In preparation for their exhibit, Guillen also made their first foray into abstract sculpture. “For my show, I made a sculpture based off a photograph from the Hubble space telescope of the Pillars of Creation,” they said. “I’m more of a functional ceramicist, making things people use in their everyday lives. So making a sculpture was a challenge for me, and I want to explore the sculptural side of things and see what other space sculptures I can come out with.”

Even after graduation, Guillen doesn’t have plans to return to El Paso yet. They’ve found the Big Bend area to be “very art friendly and very encouraging.” They said that it’s easier to access a studio, materials and continued education for ceramics in this area than their hometown, and “that draws me and keeps me in this area.”

Guillen’s exhibit shares their love of the celestial through functional and sculptural ceramics. The exhibition runs through April 30 at the Francois Fine Art Building in room 102 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Every day from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Guillen lowers the lights in the gallery and turns on the lamps, so that the constellations projected through them are visible.