Arthur Gonzalez Gets Into Modes

The painter turned sculptor translates his ideas from life into a personal language in art.


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Photos by Lance Yamamoto

In a converted carpenter’s workshop on Versailles Avenue near the Fruitvale Bridge, Arthur Gonzalez seeks to create a new dynamic. His career-long ambition of creating a sculpture-on-the-wall format is what he is tackling, searching for a two/three-dimensional hybrid aesthetic language. Walking to his studio in the morning, he tries to remember where he left off and which mode and attitude he will work in today.

Gonzalez was born and raised in Sacramento, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree at CSU Sacramento. He completed an MFA in sculpture at UC Davis in 1981. After living the next 10 years in New York, he returned to California and got married, moving first to Oakland then buying a home in Alameda in 1994. Gonzalez has always been an artist. As a child, he filled reams of paper with drawings before he was 5, and his mom enrolled him in an oil painting class at age 7. As a teenager, seeing Robert Rauschenberg’s sculpture Monogram gave him chills. “His inspired way of combining painting and sculpture with abandon was a key that opened a door for me.”

“I am often considered a figurative artist or a realist, and though this is partially correct, I see myself more in the tradition of a ‘Magic Realist,’” he said. Interested in artists like Surrealist painter René Magritte, he is equally influenced by writers Federico Garcia Lorca and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. “I love the vacillating maneuverings of Garcia Marquez, where he seems to step with ease to and fro with one foot in reality then shifts his footing into a magical realm,” Gonzalez said. “This is the strata of vision that I wish to travel.”

Gonzalez is a figurative ceramic sculptor who doesn’t look at much figurative ceramic sculpture. He sees himself as a painter-turned-sculptor who translates ideas from life into a personal language, hoping to reveal new insights and understanding into how he thinks and feels. Art movements that resonate for him range from the 17th-century baroque school, abstract expressionism, minimalism, and the Chicago imagists of the 1960s. “And I love the invention and ‘intervention’ of materials by artists Anselm Kiefer and Julian Schnabel,” he said.

Gonzalez develops work depending on what “mode” he is in on any given day. When in a construction mode, he begins by hand building a figure from clay into a desired pose or attitude. The next day, he might shift into one of his other modes, described as an aesthetic of theory mode or a conceptual aspect of the visual mode, both of which seek answers through philosophical questioning about the journey he is exploring or the journey he wishes viewers to take. “On those days, I might ask, ‘Am I covering new ground, or am I stomping over well-traveled roads that I’ve forgotten?’”

In a current series, which he calls The Fence in the Hole, he is dealing with the inclusion of a flat element, like a puddle of water, a shadow, or a piece of ground, that complements or disrupts the freedom of the figure. Working primarily in clay, he creates figures in various forms of social interaction that meet complex abstract compositions, the basis for his task of creating the sculpture-on-the-wall format that so drives him. His color scheme is earthy with figures at once otherworldly yet evocative of an unknown ancient myth and mystery.

Gonzalez wants viewers to experience the inexplicable, for imagery to go from the eyes to the brain and bypass the voice of reason. “I want people to understand that I am attempting to unravel my ball of unconscious information through subject matter and mixed media,” he said. “Knowing, however, that the figures I create are activators of personal symbols — like how a lumberjack activates his axe.” He understands that the viewer also has an unconscious ball to unravel, too. “The art that has influenced me the most has given me chills, dilated my eyes, and taken my breath away,” Gonzalez said. “It has inspired me to go into my studio and once again attempt alchemy. This is the best experience.”

Gonzalez has exhibited his artwork since 1980 and has taught and lectured all over the country and abroad. He is represented by John Natsoulas Gallery in Davis and Mason Fine Arts in Atlanta, Ga. Apart from working in his studio, Gonzalez can be found customizing his 1969 Chevy C10 Stepside pickup truck and keeping it alive, a hot rod he has had for over 40 years. For more information, visit his website at ArthurGonzalez.com.

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