Art Around Town

Painter Edward Gonzales celebrates Hispanic heritage with evolving style

Ashley M. Biggers is magazines editor for “The New Mexican.”



Santa Fe New Mexican


At 75, painter Edward Gonzales’ hands are a bit thicker around the knuckles as he grasps his brushes. The skin is tougher than when he began his artistic journey at age 4. Yet, in this season of life, Gonzales continues to evolve his form and subject matter. At Acosta Strong Fine Art on the edge of Canyon Road, he exhibits 15 to 20 new works in his annual show, which coincides with Contemporary Hispanic Market. The 2013 Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts winner began his painting journey when his grandmother Remedios gave him colored pencils and paper to entertain him while his parents worked. He diligently copied the cells of a Daffy Duck comic. “It was the quietest she’d ever seen me,” he recalls. “She was so astounded I could [draw like that]. She’d birthed 16 children, but only five survived. There was a sadness and a toughness to her. I remember the moment because she was so difficult to please.” He never saw those borrowed colored pencils again, but with the artistic touch born in him, he drew with and on anything he could find — brown paper sacks, in the dirt with sticks. He walked to Los Griegos Library from his Albuquerque home, borrowed every art title he could, and began teaching himself art history and practice. Schools rewarded his precocious talent, and he went on to study art at the University of New Mexico — until the draft interrupted his studies with two years of service in the U.S. Army. “Being a soldier in Vietnam was life changing,” he says in his artist statement. “I came home with a stronger commitment to my art and my culture. I understood what I had to do as an artist — express the beauty and vitality of the people and landscapes of New Mexico.” Shortly after graduating from UNM in 1971 with a BFA, Gonzales began painting a series of Norman Rockwell-esque scenes that advocated for literacy and education among Hispanic families. Inspired by his own father learning to read in the kitchen and a historic photograph, En La Cocina depicts a young man in a chair next to the stove, reading as his mother cooks dinner. The scenes were bold statements in a community where young men were often pulled into trades early to help support their families. To reach an even wider audience, Gonzales turned the paintings into posters and distributed them at academic conferences, where the artworks found a receptive audience in teachers. “What I observed as a kid was that Hispanics had a place [in society] they couldn’t move beyond. I took my own savings to make posters to inspire Hispanics to improve themselves through education, he says.” Albuquerque Public Schools paid homage to his advocacy by naming an elementary school after him in 2004. His depictions of Hispanic peoples took root outside the classroom too. Throughout his more than 40-year career, he’s celebrated the lifeways of his people — something he felt was rarely depicted when he became a full-time fine artist in 1982. He’s supported other Hispanic artists on their journeys too. He was among a group of artists who sold their work during a summer show at what is now the New Mexico History Museum. In 1989, they learned they would no longer be able to sell their work there. Gonzales boldly approached the Spanish Colonial Arts Society about a companion show to Traditional Spanish Market. A week later, the society agreed: it would sponsor the artists for a market along Lincoln Avenue. Contemporary Hispanic Market kicked off in 1990. “For many artists, it was their only venue. It launched artists into galleries,” he says. “For Contemporary Hispanic Market all that mattered was that your art was good. It gave artists a sense of freedom. It remains an important venue for them to this day.” He helped organize the market for many years and stepped down in 2015 to let other artists lead. Gonzales was also instrumental in lobbying the New Mexico State Fair to open a Hispanic Arts Building, which it did in the early 1990s. “It’s important for us not to be invisible,” he says. Over the years, the edges of Gonzales’ Rockwellian scenes have softened, giving way to an impressionistic style. “I use brighter colors and a more expressive application of paint. It’s been an evolution from realism as I explore and reinterpret the medium,” he says. Instead of appearing in sharp relief, faces materialize as though through the hazy edges of memory. “Most artists have anxiety about whether society accepts them or not. They paint and create to fulfill an inner need to express their memories to completion,” he says. Some works are based on his own memories, such as visiting his grandparents’ farm, which he depicts in Of Times and Dreams Past. Others are based on public photo archives searches for images of Hispanics; these works draw upon a shared cultural memory, as in Dos Familias de Agua Fria. Although always a political activist at heart, he’s softened the mission he pursued vehemently in his youth. He paints from his Rio Rancho home — often just out of bed and still in his pajamas. “There are not so many distractions these days,” he says. “I’ve contributed enough. Now I can concentrate on my art. It’s a great joy to me to be able to concentrate on what I love.”