Arts advocate Educator and artist Edward Gonzales
The New Mexico Coalition for Literacy states that 20 percent of New Mexicans age sixteen and older are at the lowest level of literacy on a scale of one to five, and 46 percent are at level two, indicating an insufficient degree of education required to hold many types of jobs. Artist Edward Gonzales believes that literacy begins in the home. “It’s a simple message, but I believe it’s a powerful one,” the painter told Pasatiempo. In the 1980s Gonzales started designing posters that advocate literacy. “I did a series of educational literacy posters,” he said. “They’re bilingual posters that promote literacy and family learning. I still sell those posters today.”
Gonzales’ advocacy was, in part, what inspired Albuquerque Public Schools to name an elementary school after him in 2004. “It was the newest school that was in Albuquerque at the time,” he said. “They were searching for a name ... and the principal really loved my artwork. The school board accepted the name ... as a way of recognizing my contributions to literacy and education.”
Gonzales, a recipient of the Governors Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2013, has an exhibition of his paintings opening Friday at Acosta-Strong Fine Art. “They’re all new works that were completed in the last six months,” he said. “There are 14 pieces in the show. I have figurative pieces in there and I also have landscapes.”
Gonzales’ paintings are colored in rich, vibrant hues and capture the simple, rustic village life of New Mexico. Hispanic culture in New Mexico is his primary focus, and his figures are rendered in a painterly and naturalistic fashion that emphasizes color and form. “I tend toward doing more expressive type of work where I feel the energy and the light and tap into that energy and vitality,” he said. “I’m very much a colorist.” These characteristics can be seen in his paintings Villagers, Los Vecinos con su Cerdo
(La Matanza), and other domestic scenes, such as Los Ancianos, a portrait of an older couple and their dogs. These paintings capture a sense of continuing tradition and of people who still live by old ways in the small, remote communities of Northern New Mexico.
“I do have this Latino thrust in my art. My art is known for that. I’ve had a lot of Latin American students who are now professionals in their fields. But I do landscapes. I do still lifes. I have a couple of still-life flower paintings in the show. But I also instill them with what I feel is a Latino perspective.”
Gonzales was influenced by the Chicano movement in the 1960s, one of the objectives of which was to improve educational opportunities among New Mexico’s Hispanic residents. “As students, we were idealists. After I was drafted and spent two years in the military, one in Vietnam in a combat engineer unit, I came back with ideas of how to contribute to society through my art,” he told Pasatiempo in 2013, in advance of receiving the governor’s award.
In his recent conversation with Pasatiempo ,he reiterated his position. “My work is a celebration of life,” he said. “I just saw too much of the opposite in Vietnam. In order to maintain my balance when I got back, I wanted to create art that gave a positive thrust to society.” For Gonzales, that meant creating artworks that people could identify with and that cast Hispanics in a favorable light. “I see Hispanic
continued from Page 42 culture as a legitimate subject for fine art,” he said. “When we were young students, protesting and such, the whole idea was to assert the Chicano or Mexican-American perspective on society, but I rejected the notion of doing it through violence. Protest can have its place, but the important thing was to improve society, not to tear it down.”
Gonzales’ commitments to art, education, and Hispanic culture became guiding principles informing his own artwork and inspiring him to promote art and culture in other ways. He once lobbied for a Hispanic arts building at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds, and the structure is now a permanent fixture. In the late 1980s, he was chairman of the first Contemporary Hispanic Market in Santa Fe. “I grew up in Albuquerque and was there from first grade through college. In 1988, I moved to Santa Fe and lived there until 1996. I was very active there with the Contemporary Hispanic Market. I spent 23 years helping that venue grow, but I had to move on. Living in Rio Rancho now, it’s harder to get out there and do all the volunteer work that’s needed. I think it has reached its goal, to provide a permanent venue for contemporary Hispanics to show in one of the state’s largest art markets.”
Gonzales has been a full-time professional artist for almost 40 years, and his stance on his subject matter has not wavered. “I still feel the excitement of creating something new and energetic,” he said. “It’s almost as though I’m painting for the first time. That’s what I feel when I sit down to create art.”