In a world where everything seems to constantly be vying for attention, it is rare to give pause to something that feels truly refreshing, even exciting. Cue artist and ceramicist Isaac Diaz of Uoqaus (a name loosely based on the Finnish word for sigh) and the way he is reimagining the expectations for the modern creative by paying homage to the past.
Fresh out of university, Diaz talks to us about his exploration of ceramics, personal roots, and his future vision for the timeless works he creates.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you, and what fills your days at the moment?
I was born and raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I’m 22, a Leo, half white and half Salvadoran. I recently graduated from The University of Oklahoma School of Visual Arts with a BFA in Ceramics and Sculpture. Currently, I work part time as a barista and part time in a ceramics studio. My days recently have had me wondering how I begin to navigate the world on my own. I believe I am headed in a good direction, but there still are so many questions when it comes to how I continue my art practice. In a less heady-space, my days are filled with sketching, rolling out clay, and drinking lots of tea and/or coffee. I am usually drinking both...
How did your exploration of ceramics begin?
I think my interest in ceramics began when I wanted more out of my own creativity. For the longest time I experimented with different materials and mediums for expression, but I didn’t feel connected to what I was making. I took a ceramics course in 2019 and instantly fell in love. The tactile nature of clay was so new and interesting to me, so I kept exploring.
You present your work under the name Uoqaus. What is the origin story of this name, and why did you choose it?
The name “uoqaus” comes from a time when I was younger playing around on Google translate. I typed in the word “sigh” and selected the Finnish language. I am not sure why I was doing this but when the translation popped up, “huokaus” was the result. Uoqaus is just a stylized version of this word. Honestly, I just like how “uoqaus” looks typed out more than anything. But it does have a unique appearance and most people associate me with the name Uoqaus.
What values do you instill in both your business and personal life?
Using less. Using less plastic, less shopping, less possessions, overall, less waste. I have always been a neat and organized person and that influences my work and home life. Calling myself a “minimalist” wouldn't be too far from the truth. I do my best to reuse packing materials when shipping my work. I think we can do with less. Buying handmade, high quality, and local objects every once in awhile is best. This helps me appreciate every object I buy. It is an ideal I am fortunate to live and work by.
How has your upbringing and past environments informed the work you put forth today?
I grew up in a very conservative home. I used to really hate that. I have now learned without these limitations in my childhood I would have never had the desire to explore who I am and what I want from life. My work asks questions about my place on this earth. My work asks what grounds me and what makes me feel connected. Art has become something that has both strengthened and softened me to the world around me.
On a larger scale, how does anthropology and the understanding of one’s roots play a role in your work?
I believe everything is connected and everything in the present is a result of the past. My grandmother on my father’s side is Nahua-Pipil, a major indigenous group in El Salvador. She grew up in a time where her people were violently erased. I have this responsibility to research and continue certain traditions that are a part of my heritage. While I may not be making ceramic pots for the same reasons as my ancestors, I look to their past works to highlight who they are. Looking to past traditions helps us to better connect with each other and the earth.
You have been cited as inspired by ancient cultures from the Meditterenean region along with empires such as the Mayans and Aztecs. Specifically, you acknowledged Xochipilli, the Aztec god of flowers, mushrooms, love, and patron for homosexual people. Could you tell me more about the draw you feel to this deity and how this (and similar influences) have shaped you as an artist?
Xochipilli is an example of how history can be mended and revived. Prior to European conquest of the Americas, homosexual people were seen as gifted by the gods. As a queer person who has had to search for acceptance, it is nice to see how not all cultures discriminate on people who they may not fully understand. Now, we are seeing more and more opportunities presented to minorities of all kinds and it brings us full circle: all are connected and we depend on each other. The ancient world saw nature and humanity as interconnected. My art practice venerates human touch, my work is never symmetrical or perfect. Looking into ancient history has made me feel humbled to be an artist in a time where so many good things are happening for more and more people in the world.
What is your vision for Uoqaus? What does this project look like coming into full fruition?
I hope Uoqaus becomes self-sufficient. I hope to be independent and be my own boss. I want to open a multi-purpose space. I see this space as a place for artists to work and sell their work. This space would also be a gallery, shop, cafe, anything that brings art to people. I have so many ideas, and in time I know they will come to fruition.
What other mediums do you want to continue to experiment and familiarize yourself with?
I have worked a little in paper making. The paper I have made is made by recycling pre-existing paper. I would like to learn how to turn raw plant materials into paper as well.
What is something you are looking forward to learning as you grow in your craft?
How to know when to rest. While I am young and have just started, I do have a hard time with resting from both work and art making. I don't want to see art as work, it’s tricky but I know it can be done.
Is there a poem or book excerpt you have read lately that left you better off for having read it?
I read this comic by Jon Michael Frank on Instagram the other day. It was about how like lotus in a pond, so much of himself can be left too bloomed and at the same time, unbloomed. His writing and drawings are humorous, dark, and create a sense of commonality.
Is there an item that has recently come into your possession (or something that you have had for awhile) that you feel an emotional connection to?
Oh my god…what don’t I feel emotionally connected to? This question is both daunting yet fun. I would say this small cube of pyrite I bought a few years ago. Pyrite, I have come to learn, symbolizes groundedness, inner and outer reflection, and wealth. It sits on my desk and I look at it reminds me how I can keep going. It might be just some shiny rock, but it’s special to me. Plus, it shows how the earth can form a near perfect cube; how neat!
If you could have any sculptural or architectural feat in your backyard, what would it be? (ie: the great pyramids of Giza, an ancient sundial, a massive outdoor communal bath, etc).
That is a tough question… I’d have to say I would love to have The Garden of Cosmic Speculation by Charles Jencks.
Thank you Isaac! Follow Uoqaus on Instagram to stay connected to Isaac's work.