The artwork of Frank Gonzales comes from a place of pure honesty. An artist with a steely determination, Gonzales considers resisting the temptation to overthink his imagery a central focus. Responding to external stimuli from his nearby Arizonian surroundings and coupling this with his fascination for nature (botany and ornithology in particular), he simultaneously constructs and deconstructs during his creative process in order to generate visuals which occupy a space somewhere between artificiality and realism. The end results provide the viewer with captivating reinterpretations of classical subjects that combine stunning realism with planes of fragmented abstraction, which draw as much inspiration from contemporary graphic design as they do from the magnificent works of the Old Masters.
Frank Gonzales was born in Mesa and raised in Tempe, Arizona. After four years of community college, Gonzales’ exceptional talent was rewarded with a scholarship to the Laguna College of Art and Design, from which he graduated in 2003 with a BA in Drawing and Painting. Since then, Frank has gone on to exhibit his artwork throughout the US, at venues such as Thinkspace Gallery, California and Lotton Gallery, Chicago.
WOW x WOW recently persuaded Frank to take a time out from his busy schedule, in order to shed a little more light on what makes him tick and the inspirations and thoughts behind his spellbinding work.
Hi Frank, thanks for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to answer our questions. First off, can you tell us a little about where you grew up and where you are currently living?
I was born in Mesa but grew up in Tempe, Arizona.
Please tell us something about your background, what lead you to pursuing a career in the arts, any training you may have had, etc.?
I remember in the 80’s seeing a wall bombed with graffiti down the street from me. It was so fresh at the time. Up until then, I only saw that stuff in the movies! I was amazed. I was a writer in high school and knew all I wanted to do was make art. I had an art teacher explain to me there were people that actually made a living creating art, except not graffiti. It blew my mind and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I remember quitting the football team my senior year and telling my coach I had no future in it, plus it was taking time away from art making. He wasn’t too stoked but my parents were supportive of my decision, I think.
I went to Mesa Community College and learned to draw and paint from the figure. We had amazing instructors. Our critiques were brutal but it gave us a very strong foundation. I will always be forever grateful for that. After exhausting as many classes as I could I was encouraged to apply to art school. I was kind of taken back at the thought of leaving. No one in my family has ever moved away?! After some convincing to stay local I ended up attending the Laguna College of Art and Design in Laguna Beach, CA.on a scholarship. Leaving home was the best experience that could’ve ever happen to me. I kind of like to compare it to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Haha.
I ended up graduating in 03 with a BA in painting and drawing. I stayed in Southern California for six years, moved to New York for another six and moved back to Arizona in late 2011.
What kind of working environment do you prefer? Could you describe your studio for us?
I’ve always worked wherever I’ve lived. I’ve been rocking the same easel since 2000! Haha. When my wife and I found out we were going to have a baby I approached my mom about building a studio in her backyard. I’ve been in that space for under two years now. It hasn’t been long at all. I’m still getting settled I think. It’s a 15 x 26 ft studio in the back of the house I grew up in. We live pretty close which is really convenient.
Since we had our son in Dec 2014, I’ve been working full time by day and coming home for a couple of hours and getting in the studio by 8:30/9 and working until 12-1am. I’ve just recently changed up my schedule and now get up at 5am and paint before work. I’m only a couple of weeks deep, but I think I’m adjusting well. It’s most cool and quiet around that time and watching the sunrise is really grounding.
Talk to us about the themes that you are currently exploring with your artwork?
Right now I’m playing with mark making and exploring background elements into the compositions versus complete solid backgrounds. It’s like revisiting rudiments from earlier works, but with more life under my belt. I’m not sure where this will go, if anywhere, but the uncertainty is needed for me to grow. Definitely more desert botanicals have been on the forefront as well. I’m always experiencing a constant cycle where I end up learning to finally get out of the way and just let the work happen and not muck it up with overthinking.
You refer to your creative process as ‘organic’, can you expand on this concept for us and give a run through of how your work comes together? Also, how important do you feel your subconscious mind is to your creative decision making?
Similar to my last response if I just step aside and MAKE instead of killing every idea that comes up things go pretty well. What’s funny, is I know this but do it anyway! I will usually have an image or interest in mind and go from there. I don’t sketch out my ideas beforehand. I usually draw straight on the panel or canvas and see what happens. However, I have used Photoshop to collage compositions and really dig how quick it is. Every time I use this approach I always ask myself why I don’t use it more often. I think I just forget. I really do enjoy seeing how the painting unfolds. It allows for decisions to be made along the way, etc.
Botany and ornithology are two of the most important influences on your work. when and how did you interest in these subjects develop?
I come from a figurative background. I think for me I didn’t have much to say with it after a while. I’m still a sucker for some structural drawings and figure paintings. It was through a lot of playing and experimentation and being receptive. My roommate in college, Richard Salcido, had painted some birds and we would play off Ideas. That was influential. My buddy Preston Graves was a big influence as well. He got me into growing carnivorous plants and we both had a similar interest in bones and things of nature. Essentially I just ended up painting what I liked. My love for the desert started to rekindle when l lived on the east coast. It was something I took for granted as a kid growing up. When I moved back home to AZ, a lot of cacti and succulents started to creep into the work. So I guess I could say just being receptive to things around me and what interests me ends up in my work.
What are some of your other interests which provide you with inspiration?
Just being alive. Impermanence is a big motivator.
Colour is clearly a very important aspect of your art. Not only does the sheer beauty succeed in pulling the viewer in, but in the form of the little bright fragments of colour, you’re adding an element of mystery and abstraction to the narrative. Please talk to us about your thoughts on colour and how you approach this area of your work?
My thoughts on colour are simple. I just play off what is there as it develops. There are still conscious decisions being made, but I like keeping things open to possibilities. Right now I’m looking to expand on that portion of my work. I’m always asking myself what I can do to evolve with it. I’m always questioning myself.
What thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc., do you wish for the viewers of your work to take away with them?
Anything to wake the senses I guess. I love when I receive emails from patrons who purchased my work or someone who saw it at a gallery reach out to say how much they enjoy it. I’m honoured to have three works in the collection of the Orange County Children’s Hospital. I was told they really dig my work there. That tells me I’m doing my job.
In what ways do you feel your art has evolved over the last several years?
When I receive a painting back from a gallery and I’m a little embarrassed that I could’ve approached it differently. Hehe!
Being an artist is never an easy option. What do you find to be the most challenging part about the whole endeavour?
Managing everything that pertains to the business of an art career while working full time with a family. Also, learning to say no to an exhibit opportunity.
What’s next for Frank Gonzales?
Who knows?! That’s the fun and challenging part. Peaks and valleys my friend. However, I know the best part will be when I get home from work and see my family tonight. Peace.