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For Bosco Sodi, Nature is the Ultimate Muse, Assistant, and Teacher

The Mexican artist’s passion for color, texture, and “controlled chaos” comes through vividly in his Brooklyn studio

Walking past dozens of 19th-century brick buildings on the Red Hook waterfront, with views of the Statue of Liberty beyond, it is as if you have stepped back in time to an old New York amid an industrial revolution. Passing through one of the warehouses’ imposing iron doors and entering Bosco Sodi’s approximately 8,000 square-foot studio, however, feels as if you have stepped onto another planet. The Mexico City-born artist’s large-scale textural canvases, composed of a distinctive combination of sawdust, water, pigment, and glue, line the walls, while the materials’ glorious remains from projects past have formed a psychedelic, nearly bubbling, crust across the floor.

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Bosco Sodi in his studio. Photo: Vincent Tullo.

In the world Sodi has created, raw materials, such as found branches, volcanic rocks, and clay meet precious metals and an explosion of color. “I love this juxtaposition and the dialogue that it creates,” he shares. In addition to material, color (a nod to Abstract Expressionism and his heritage), and texture (largely influenced by Georges Braque’s ingenious incorporation of sawdust in his paintings) form the artist’s holy trinity. If he were to add a fourth factor, it would likely be thickness. Sodi attributes this to a formative childhood visit to Mayan archeological ruins, where he encountered ancient stelae. “I have always loved the stela’s importance as an object and the way they’ve survived the passing of time,” says Sodi on his instant fascination with the towering, intricately carved stone-slab monuments.

Sodi is indebted to his parents—a chemical engineer father and Marxist philosopher mother—for not only sharing their passion for culture and history with him but also for suggesting he use art as a creative outlet. “When I was a child, I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and dyslexia, and instead of medicating me, which wasn’t common at the time, my mother put me in Montessori art classes three times a week,” he recalls. “That’s why for me, art is a necessity—it’s my therapy.” Today, Sodi operates studios and spaces in Mexico City, New York, Barcelona, Folegandros (a Cycladic island in Greece), and Casa Wabi, a non profit art center in Puerto Escondido on Mexico’s Pacific coast that the artist founded in 2014.

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Untitled (mixed media on canvas, 2024) and Untitled (clay bricks covered with ceramic real gold) in Sodi’s studio. Photos: Vincent Tullo.

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Sodi’s studio interior. Photo: Vincent Tullo.

“When I became more established in my career, I felt I had an obligation to give back. I am so lucky I’m able to make a living from what I love the most, but I have suffered firsthand how difficult it is to become an artist,” says Sodi on establishing Casa Wabi to provide residencies for contemporary artists and to empower local Mexican craftsmen. Today, Casa Wabi has welcomed some 400 artists, and has outposts in Mexico City and Tokyo. “I like to think of Casa Wabi as a living, social sculpture.”

Between the mountains and the sea, Casa Wabi’s Puerto Escondido headquarters was built by renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando, a close friend and collaborator of Sodi’s. “One of the reasons I work with Ando is because of how he uses concrete. You don’t need to paint it. The older it is the more attractive,” says Sodi, who gravitates toward architects that are pure in their materials and proposals. “Architecture should be simple and humble but also effective and beautiful.” The same is true of Sodi’s democratic approach to art—both his material predilection and his conviction to make fine art accessible. As part of a 2022 exhibition in Venice, for example, Sodi created 195 small spheres, composed of Mexican clay, that people could interact with and, on the last day, even take home.

Another fundamental aspect of Sodi’s work is his embrace of imperfection. The Japanese aesthetic principle of wabi-sabi, which argues that an object’s flaws render it singular and, therefore, all the more beautiful, has been instrumental in shaping him—the term also directly inspired Casa Wabi’s name. “The philosophy of my work is that even if I wanted to make a piece again, I couldn’t,” says Sodi, always privileging the spontaneity found in nature or matters beyond his purview. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the artist spent four months at Casa Wabi and had limited access to canvas, he repurposed burlap sacks, heavily stained from transporting chili, saffron, and coffee. Emblazoning these unique found objects with bright painted markings—his “interpretation of the sun and moon”—has continued to be a significant part of his practice.

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Sodi at work in his studio and a detail of Untitled (mixed media on raw linen, 2021). Photos: Vincent Tullo.

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The Red Hook waterfront, where Sodi’s studio is located. Photo: Vincent Tullo.

The artist likens his process to “controlled chaos.” Preferring to use local materials whenever possible, Sodi mixes pigments that he collected from around the globe with water and sawdust sourced from the country where he is working. “If you see the paintings I did in Berlin or Barcelona or Greece, they are totally different from one another, even if using the same or similar pigments,” says Sodi, who sometimes sets his paintings out to dry in the sun to season further. “I love being surprised by the outcome. It is like being a kid on Christmas morning waiting to see what Santa brought.” As for how Sodi knows when a painting is finished? “When I see the first crack, I stop because I want to leave the natural process untouched.

Among Casa Wabi’s greatest “presents” to Sodi was the exposure to clay, a medium that one of the foundation’s first residents encouraged him to try alongside the local craftsmen. “I love that clay involves the four elements, and in many religions, humans were created from it. Clay has evolved with humans since the very beginning, and that is one of the reasons why when you put anybody in front of clay, they begin to play with it. It is in our DNA,” says Sodi, who finds the process of hand sculpting to be especially calming—even if the pre-firing drying process takes up to a year for the large solid cubes and spheres he frequently makes. “The exchange of energy between the artist and the object is essential to me.”

Photography by: Vincent Tullo

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