On the occasion of a giveaway of Sebastian Boher's silkscreen prints, Alcove Studio's Allie Pisarro-Grant takes a deep dive into one of the creative minds behind Miwak Junior, probing into the artist's past to learn about his unique visual language across drawing, animation, printmaking and ceramics.

Miwak Junior co-founder Sebastian Boher was born in Chile but spent time in Brazil and Argentina as a child as well. His family traveled partly due to his father Hernan Boher’s training and competition schedule as an Olympic ski racer. Sebastian first came to the U.S. as a young teenager while following in his father’s footsteps, skiing and learning English while staying with host families for about 3 years at and around California’s Lake Tahoe.

Not unlike California, Boher’s native Chile features a diverse climate, with spectacular snow-covered slopes in the southeast as well as arid deserts in the north and over 2,000 miles of beaches on the western coast. While Sebastian inherited his father’s agility, it turned out that his disposition was not suited to competition. “They said I didn’t have the head for it,” he explains.

Above: Hernan Boher alpine skiing aka randonnée. 🐕

Below: Home video of Hernan Boher skiing.

Olympic dreams dashed, Sebastian returned to Chile to continue with his education. The first true spark which would become the pathway toward a career in the arts happened on a trip to Mexico with his cousin at age 17. Boher and his cousin found themselves awestruck by the Aztec ruins of Teotihuacán outside Mexico City, including the monumental Temple of the Moon and the Temple of the Sun pyramids. Having launched their trip without specific plans, Boher turned to a copy of National Geographic he had brought from home. The issue’s cover story was entitled “La Ruta Maya” and included a detailed fold-out map insert with Maya historical sites marked across Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Using the magazine as their guide, they traveled to ancient ruins and modern museums, exploring this Pre-Columbian civilization.

Above: National Geographic, Vol. 176, No. 4, October 1989.

Below: The issue's accompanying map insert.

Boher returned to Chile with the urge to make drawings inspired by the architecture, sculptures, ideographic writing system, and other art of the Maya and pre-Columbian cultures he experienced. Remarkably, this early influence still defines Sebastian’s art-making language today, though it took a few detours and false starts for him to arrive. Instead of painting or sculpture, Boher started college in pursuit of a marine biology degree. “I was a little bit lost,” he says, “First, I studied marine biology…I wanted to be like Jacques Cousteau [but] then I realized that you have to study chemistry and math…” After a brief stint as a journalism major, Boher finally gave in to his instincts and entered the Universidad Finis Terrae, where he majored in printmaking with a focus on silkscreen printing. He also had his first taste of three-dimensional art-making in a bronze casting class.

While in school, Boher was tipped off to a rare opportunity: to visit and study at one of Cuba’s oldest art institutions, a lithography studio rooted in the cigar box printing of the past called Havana Experimental Graphics Workshop (Taller Experimental de Gráfica de la Habana). His informant’s suggestion? Bring good paper with you, and you’ll be able to trade it for time on the presses. Lithography is perhaps the most rarified of the rarified printmaking traditions, in part due to the scarcity of the limestone blocks integral to the process (the stones, which must be sufficiently fine-grained, homogeneous, and defect free to qualify, can only be bought second-hand and reused nowadays). Using the high-quality paper he brought with him as currency, Boher was able to learn and create work while at the workshop.

Above: The Taller Experimental de Gráfica de La Habana, photographed by Stephanie A. Rogers in 2015.

Below: Jules Engel, Homage to Nevelson I, 1968; Lithograph, 26 1/16 × 22 1/8", printed by Tamarind Lithography Workshop, Inc., Los Angeles; MoMA Collection.

These works and other silkscreens from college accompanied Sebastian on a trip to the U.S. after graduation. While visiting a Chilean friend in Los Angeles, Boher toured CalArts, which he knew by reputation as the place where Disney animators were molded and shaped into pop-art machines and as a center for experimental animation. With a stack of his art prints under his arm, Boher scored an impromptu meeting with the School of Film’s Experimental Animation department head, Jules Engel, who accepted him on the spot. Engel, a renowned artist and teacher, had an appreciation for lithography, having made his own prints and a documentary film about Albuquerque’s Tamarind Institute (formerly Tamarind Lithography Workshop) in 1968, ‘The Look of the Lithographer.’

CalArts’ prestigious program proved to be just as challenging as you’d expect - Boher’s animated thesis involved making 3,000 drawings and took a year and a half to complete. A search for opportunities to extend his stay in the U.S. after graduation led him to Pasadena City College, where he enrolled in a night class in ceramics. Sebastian’s work took off as he explored hand-building and glazing techniques under ceramic artist and professor Keiko Fukazawa.

And here we arrive at the most well-known portion of Miwak Junior’s origin story: Sebastian created and recreated a ceramic pipe (an item usually banned in the studio) until it was so far abstracted from what one thinks a pipe should look like that the kiln-master didn’t recognize it as such, and it passed through the firing and glazing process undetected. This early version was unrefined: “It was smaller [than the final design] and made from solid clay, with a hole from the mouth area into the bowl…it didn’t work very well,” Boher explains.

Above: Keiko Fukazawa, Scholar's Rock II, 2009; Earthenware, glaze, wooden stand, 16 x 16 x 9 inches.

Below: Biliana Popova, Round Bowl; Coil & slab build stoneware, 2005.

As he continued to practice the commercial side of printmaking professionally at a Los Angeles-based wallpaper company, creating silk screened wall coverings, and at an interior-decoration focused print shop, creating nature-inspired prints, Boher expanded his ceramics education. Where the two disciplines really began to resonate was in a ceramics casting workshop; here, like in a print shop, the artist’s initial creative inspiration is followed by a detailed and technical process that can result in potentially endless multiples - editioned work that can be tweaked and repeated to the artist’s liking.

While honing his casting skills under ceramicist Biliana Popova, a teacher at Xiem Clay Center and Glendale Community College, Boher refined his pipe’s design with a hollow, rather than solid, body. This change allowed for smoke from the bowl to cool down in the chamber with an airflow controlled by a connecting hole on the side - the “carb.” The pipe’s function was much improved; from day one, he had friends requesting he make them one.

Above: Sebastian Boher, OSO, 12-minute 2D animated short; sound and music by Juan Pablo Velasco.

Below: From left to right, two pre-Columbian pipes in the artist's collection, Sebastian's first solid mini pipe, the hollow-bodied Miwak design of today.

Even this new object of Boher’s affection had ties to his early influences; he’d seen Incan and other pre-Columbian pipes over the years that he stored away in his memory. Asked how his aesthetic has changed since age 17, he says, basically, it hasn’t! Not to say it won’t still; Sebastian says he’s working on pushing more spontaneous qualities in his work - his life and business partner Alice Boher and he have been making watercolor paintings lately. “I’m always impressed by how free she is with it.”

For Sebastian, creating smokeware for Miwak Junior will always be about finding a balance between form and function, experimentation and process, an approach exemplified by two artists he admires greatly, Yukiya Izumita and Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Izumita, a Japanese ceramicist born in 1966, makes exquisitely delicate sculptural forms, sometimes incorporating an unusual technique of sandwiching clay with rough Japanese paper prior to firing. Hundertwasser’s multidisciplinary approach and before-his-time focus on ecology and sustainability provide an ideal that’s appealing to Boher. The Austrian visual artist, who was age 10 when Vienna came under Nazi control, not only created an extraordinarily vibrant world in his art but also created some of the most complex print editions ever produced. Sebastian’s mother owns a Hundertwasser print (“she was very into fashion and jewelry and has a great taste for design”) which demonstrates the artist’s bold use of color and metallics–a combination that Boher has used in his Miwak Junior pipes as well.

Above: Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Homage to Schroeder-Sonnenstern, 1972; Silkscreen with Foil Embossing on laid paper; RoGallery via Artnet.

Below: Yukiya Izumita, Lamination 7, 2019; Ceramic, 15 3/8 x 27 1/2 x 7 7/8 in.

At the moment, Boher is just starting to explore a handful of fresh ceramic color recipes for use in his new electric kiln. Unlike the gas kiln Miwak Junior worked with formerly, which has a reduction firing that helps create subtle variations in the finished product, electric kilns are beloved in part for their consistency: temperature and timing are dialed in precisely, and the range of temperatures and variable durations tend to result in more vibrantly colored ceramics, no matter what clay body coloring or glaze is used. Sebastian’s interested to discover how to bring ephemeral, spontaneous qualities back into Miwak Junior pipes despite the confines of an electric kiln. We can’t wait to see.


June 10, 2022