Yolanda Gonzalez

YolieVision: The ability to paint a purple nose, green eyebrows, one yellow eye, one red eye, orange lips, blue hair; put them all together into a beautiful, striking and c acophonous portrait, and (presenting it to her unsuspecting subject) say, "See, it looks just like you!" And indeed, more often than not, she has caught her subject's mood and image exactly.

Ever since bursting onto the scene in the late 1980s, Yolanda Gonzalez has had a tremendous impact on Chicano art, producing work at a whirlwind pace. In less than ten years, Gonzalez has evolved from a talented hairdresser, taking part-time art classes, into one of the most prolific artists in Southern California, currently running the MA Gallery artspace in East Los Angeles. Her rapid ascent makes it hard to remember that she is really still one of the "new" faces.

Gonzalez, a California native, studied at Self Help Graphics in the mid-1980s and was formally introduced to the public at the First Annual Nuevo Chicano Los Angeles Art Exhibition at Plaza de la Raza in 1988. Since then she has traveled to Japan, Russia , Spain, and Scotland creating a number of commissions, notably a huge 15 foot retablo on canvas of the Virgen de Guadalupe for Floricanto USA.

But Gonzalez is no overnight sensation. In fact, the momentum that propelled her forward started well over a hundred years ago. A dated drawing by her great grandfather hangs on a wall at her home. This drawing has been Gonzalez's source of inspiration and her life-long prized possession. Her grand aunt, now in her nineties, is another lifetime artist, and the one who introduced Gonzalez to painting when she was seven. Even before then, Gonzalez was quick to know her calling. "Somebody gave my older sister a set of paints one year. She was happy to get her present, I was fascinated. I wanted them so badly," she laughingly admits. "I was two years old!"

Gonzalez earned the usual accolades in high school and was encouraged by teachers to go forward and study art. After winning an art contest, she was introduced to the Pasadena Arts Center, High School Programs. During that time she bonded with her big b rother, one of her family heroes. "I would go to his pad and we would light candles, burn incense, put on some Cat Stevens tunes and just mellow out. Talk and dream. He helped me get the confidence to go for it, become an artist," she fondly recalls.

Even though talent is part of Gonzalez's family history (her father, brother, several adult relatives and Lauren Gonzalez, her youngest niece, are all artists), for Gonzalez it has been an evolving process. "Finally at 32, my father accepts my choice as an artist and it's very encouraging," she beams.

Since entering the foray, Gonzalez has set a pace few can maintain. Her work has been exhibited at the Laguna Museum and the Armand Hammer Museum and Cultural Center. She is a teacher at Inner City Arts working with downtown youth, participates frequent ly as guest speaker and panelist for a variety of requests, and is vigorously committed to building up the presence of the MA Gallery to promote her work and the work of other local artists.

Yet for Gonzalez, this is also a time of transition in her life and work. "I'm going to be doing this [new] project in black and white, with dabs of color," Gonzalez declares. "I'm really exploring texture and mediums, and this [exhibition] is a good op portunity to do so," she reflects.

Gonzalez's goal is to create a cavalcade of portraits to capture the pantheon of artistic heroes in her family. "That's my plan. And I want to do a huge retablo of my mother because she is a saint. She's been there all along, and well, I'm hers," she sa ys, breaking into loud, rancorous laughter.

Other transitions have not been as pleasant. "My aunt has aged, and can no longer paint. My brother had an injured back for some time now, and it has slowed him down. All of this is hard to see, but I know it's just life, family. Still, I want to do something for them, the portraits," she intones.

As Gonzalez reflects on her maturity as a person and growth as an artist, her pace continues to defy abatement. Yet, her most recent painting reveals a stronger focus, giving rise to the conclusion that her best work is yet to come. "We have several gen erations of artists in my family. I want to continue the history, add my part, and set an example for the ones to come."

by Tomas Benitez

Raised in Pasadena and trained at the Pasadena Art Center College of Design, Yolanda Gonzalez has gone on to exhibit her work throughout the Los Angeles area, as well as in Africa, Spain and Japan. In addition to her career as an artist, Gonzalez also te aches art at Inner City Arts, an organization for underserved youths.

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