Until July 30, the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) will present the first in-depth exhibition, Metamorphosis: the Evolution of the Visions and Dreams, by Chicana artist Yolanda González.
“Yolanda González’s universe proposes a journey where images, ideas, and symbols transport the viewer to a dreamlike world of intimate spaces: the representation of the human figure and the dazzlement of new imaginaries,” states the MOLAA website.
A culmination of her earlier works from 1980 to those most recently created by González, Metamorphosis: the Evolution of the Visions and Dreams, is housed within two rooms. The first, in monochromatic black-and-white, is filled with paintings, drawings and sculptures, such as Sueño de Conejo and Sueño de Flores y Fruta de la Vida from her Sueños collection. The second, filled to the brim with color, walls swirling in deep and light reds, consists of paintings, ceramic sculptures, sculptures with metal, and watercolors, such as Marissa in Red Flamenco Dress.
Planning the exhibition
The entirety of the exhibition was first planned three years ago, when Lourdes I. Ramos-Rivas, President and CEO of MOLAA, approached González about creating a one-woman exhibition at the museum. From there, Gabriela Urtiaga, Chief Curator at MOLAA, picked and chose which pieces from the artist would inhabit the exhibit, including watercolors she painted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a beautiful array of the last 35 to 40 years of my work,” González said.
González was born in 1964, in the San Gabriel Valley, Calif. into a heavily artistic family, with a heritage dating back to 1877 to her great-grandfather, Juan Nepomuseno López, who created pencil-on-paper drawings; her grandmother, Margarita López Ibarra, who created oil paintings in 1920, and her mother; Yolanda López González, who worked in ceramics. Now, a renowned Chicana artist, González was only eight years old when she painted her first canvas.
“[My grandmother] actually sat me down to paint when I was around eight years old,” González said. “I never really forgot that. That collaboration, it stayed with me until now. We were very connected, my grandmother and I.”
Starting at 16
Furthering her path as an artist, and seeing great potential, around the age of 16 and 17 and attending San Gabriel Mission High School, González’s art teacher, Dixie Coutant, began working with her through both art class, and a separate private class, to hone her skills. That very teacher entered the future artist’s work into a contest, which not only gained her first place, but also a scholarship to the Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, which helped mold the artist she is today.
“I realized that my soul was that of an artist, meaning I had to create art. I have to still create art. I am always creating new works in my mind and my heart,” González said.
Attending that prestigious school led González directly to Self-Help Graphics & Art in 1983, a non-profit organization committed to supporting the advancements of new art creations by Chicana/o and Latinx artists through silkscreens, printmaking and serigraphs since 1970. There, the visual artist met other creators, such as Sister Corita Kent, a silkscreen artist; Patssi Valdez, a Chicana artist known for her vibrant paintings, and Eloy Torrez, a muralist and musician, who later became González’s mentor.
“There, I understood how important being a Chicana artist was because I did not know there was a Chicano art movement,” González said.
Traveling the world
Not only was her gift of art nurtured by this environment and the people inhabiting it, but González also had the opportunity, through Self-Help Graphics, to travel the world and share her newfound knowledge. From Spain to lecture about the Chicano movement to Glasgow, Scotland to document a Day of the Dead exhibit, she acquired more artistic experiences.
González was an artist in residence in Ginza, Japan in 1998, and Assisi, Italy, in 1999. Throughout the years, she has participated in both solo and group exhibitions in the United States and South Africa, as well as Russia, Scotland, France, Spain and Alaska. González has not only learned about various cultures as she has traveled but finds herself weaving her experiences and the people she has met into her pieces.
The artist has also managed to, over time and in her studio, find exactly the right formula for creating the best work, her way.
“I think my favorite way of creating art is to be true to the process, meaning creating what inspires me and what comes to my mind, my heart, my soul,” González said. “And it’s a relationship for me, so I don’t think about other relationships or what other people are doing. I just stay focused on what intuitively and creatively comes to me.”
Bold Strokes of color
Best known for her strong, bold brush strokes of color and texture that evoke and conjure beautiful emotion, González’s famous collections, Sueños, Monsters and Metamorphosis, ceramic sculptures and portraits have been featured in several museums, such as the Armand Hammer Museum, The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, the Japanese American National Museum, the Diego Rivera Museum in México City, and the Vincent Price Museum.
Adding to that list is González’s new exhibition, Metamorphosis: the Evolution of the Visions and Dreams, where the Chicana artist encapsulates her admiration and respect for representation, femininity, emotion and identity through paintings, drawings and installations. And from now until the end of summer, she can be found walking through the exhibit, having discussions, and, possibly, raffling off a new piece of artwork to someone in the community.
“I’m so excited about this exhibition, and I’m excited to reach out to the community and to meet the kids that are into art, to meet the adults that are into art and just to really be involved in that exhibition with the community,” González said.
If you would like to learn more about Yolanda González and follow her artistic journey, you can check out her website or follow her on Instagram. Make sure to schedule your visit to her new MOLAA exhibit through the museum’s website.
CALÓ NEWS sat down with González to discuss her artistic inspirations, representing the Latino community and what is coming next.
Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
YOUR FAMILY’S ARTISTIC HERITAGE DATES BACK TO 1877. DID YOU ALWAYS FEEL THAT YOU WOULD FOLLOW IN THEIR FOOTSTEPS? HOW DID YOU START?
As a young girl and a young adult, there was artwork all around the house that was my grandmother’s, and then my great-grandfather’s artwork. But, I never really thought about their work and how serious it was, because we never really spoke about it. And then we had an exhibition at the Vincent Price Museum, called Sueño de familia/Dream of Family, which was an exhibition of five artists, my great-grandfather, my grandmother, my mother, myself and my niece, Lauren Stacia González. It was an absolutely beautiful culmination, I would say. My mom was 88, 89, and that was actually the last place that she went out to before she passed away, so it was beautiful and bittersweet. I don’t know if there’s ever been an exhibition with five generations exhibited. It’s absolutely an honor, I’m really honored by that. And, in turn, I believe myself an artist and a representative of not only my ancestors but of my culture. That it is a very big responsibility to share and to take very seriously what I create, and who and how I present myself as a person.
AS AN ARTIST, YOU ARE KNOWN FOR YOUR STRONG, BOLD BRUSH STROKES OF COLOR AND TEXTURE – WHERE DO YOU DRAW INSPIRATION FROM?
The inspiration comes from the energy and the interactions that I have in this world, whether it be with people, or with music. It’s all of my senses, I absorb with all of my senses, the smell, the taste, hearing, the visual, the touch, all of that inspires me because it’s life and I love to embrace myself in the beauty of life. And in turn, I feel that, perhaps, I can give some beauty back through my artwork. [Laughs] That was so poetic.
WHAT DOES ART MEAN TO YOU? WHAT DOES IT ENCOMPASS? ARE THERE ANY OTHER ARTISTS THAT INSPIRE YOU?
Art to me is a form of expression that can heal not only oneself, but others and the universe. I feel art, in the creative process, is a very powerful energy. And I also feel like art is that of meditation or prayer, and something that we could use in this universe right now. And this museum exhibition has allowed me to share not only my art but a piece of my beliefs and a piece of my heart with everyone.
I’m a huge fan of Vincent van Gogh. I love his work, his dedication, the color, the texture of his work and the passion in his work, he is one of my favorite artists. Eloy Torrez is also one of my favorite artists and a mentor of mine. I took classes with him at Self-Help Graphics in my early 20s, and we’re still friends. Alida Cervantes, who is a watercolorist, a master watercolorist… I’m very inspired by her work. Of course, Patssi Valdez. And then there are the musicians that inspire me, the band, Quetzal, and the singer, Martha Gonzalez, who is a beautiful subject to paint always, and her family.
YOU’VE SHOWN AND EXHIBITED YOUR ART IN NUMEROUS PLACES AROUND THE WORLD AND THE UNITED STATES. DO YOUR TRAVELING EXPERIENCES INSPIRE YOUR ART, AND HOW DO THESE EXPERIENCES OUTSIDE THE US DIFFER?
I engulf myself in the culture of where I’m at and the artists that I meet when I’m there. And I’ve not only learned new techniques, but also learned the parameters that those artists live in and how they create their artwork. When I lived in Japan, I had a beautiful studio. It was in Itsukaichi, and all the supplies were given to us. But, I’ve also found that, in the past, there is a different view of artwork in other cultures than in the U.S. I have found that they honor the artists, but that was in the past. Now, the U.S. is really starting to honor art and the artists and really starting to embrace, culturally, the different wonderful cultures that are creating art. And the other thing that I’m finding is that they’re also embracing artists of all ages, and that makes me very happy because I’m 59 going on 60. And my career as an artist seems to be growing rather rapidly at this time.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT CREATING AN ART PIECE OR EXHIBITION? WHETHER IT’S A PAINTING OR CERAMIC SCULPTURE, WHAT IS THE PROCESS LIKE FOR YOU? ARE THERE ANY RITUALS THAT YOU HAVE?
It starts with an idea and then I kind of work with it in my mind. Would this medium work with this medium? Would this work on paper? Would it be better on canvas? It’s kind of a scientific equation, and, of course, through the years, I know mediums, and I know how they will respond to certain papers or canvas and or ceramics and glazes. I’m always open to changing that process because the “organic-ness” of the medium I’m working with is not definite there. With art, there’s always change and that’s quite beautiful. The unknown is always so beautiful. When I work on a piece, I tend to work in a series. At the museum, you’ll see the Metamorphosis series, and then you’ll see the printmaking work that I created in Japan, which is called my Monster series. I wanted to put a face on the monsters in our psyche, and, therefore, in their own grotesqueness, see the beauty of those lines. It was just such a beautiful series. I just think that society wants to believe what beauty is. But now, you see, there is beauty in so many different sexes, sizes, shapes and forms. I’m seeing the younger generation embracing who they are, and that allows me to become more comfortable, at my age, embracing who I am. I find that so inspiring.
We also have the Metamorphosis series, which is a series that I created when I got back from Japan, and, I thought to myself, in honor of the passing of a beautiful friend of mine, what happens when you take the color away from a Chicano artist, and the metamorphosis appeared. Those particular pieces, I had put away for about 27 years, along with the prints from Japan. I was told to put some of those pieces away so that they can be understood as I was a more mature artist. This is the first time that all the Metamorphosis and the prints from Japan have been exhibited together at once. Then, after the Metamorphosis, came the Sueños, which are more surreal and are encounters and documentation of my dreams. And, of course, portraiture is what I have always created because I come from a long line of portrait artists. The ceramics, I started creating about 28 years ago with the encouragement of my friend Robert Miller, who is the ceramic professor at Rio Hondo College, a dear friend, and who assisted me with some of the larger pieces in the museum as well, putting them in the large kiln.
I like to put on incense in the studio, and I also really love to listen to music. Sometimes I listen to jazz, sometimes I listen to 60s music, and sometimes I listen to the 80s. It depends on my mood and what I’m creating. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Miles Davis, a lot of Kamasi Washington, and just letting the paint flow. And I always paint when I’m in a good space, I don’t like to paint when I’m not in a good space, so I’m always in a good space to paint. I think you have to be open to absorbing and expressing. Even as a person, I love meeting people and I love expressing and giving and joining and receiving, I think it’s just a beautiful, full circle of life.
A LOT OF YOUR ART PORTRAYS WOMEN AND THE FEMALE FORM IN VARIOUS DIFFERENT WAYS – WHY IS THIS, AND WHERE DOES THIS INSPIRATION COME FROM?
I think it’s just my relationship with my mother, her name was Yolanda as well. Ever since I was a little girl, I just absolutely adored my mother, I just adored her until the day she passed. I respected her and the manner in which she ran the household. And the woman that she was, she was just always lovely. She would always say, “You get more with honey than with vinegar.” It was always that rule and the other was, “Don’t go outside without lipstick.” I think that relationship with my mother, my grandmother and with my sisters, I have four siblings, and a brother as well. But I find that, in all of my dear lovely girlfriends, I find that my relationship with women is so empowering, and I find them to be very strong and resilient and loving. I also find that the female form is so organic and the curves and the lines of the female body are just a road that is so beautifully traveled, and I never get tired of painting the female form. I do have male models and friends that I have painted and love creating their portraits, but the female form is absolutely intriguing and fascinating to me. Through the empowerment of women and the courage and power that the women feed back to me, it’s a homage to them. It’s a definite celebration of women, in all facets.
WHY IS CHICANO ART SO IMPORTANT, AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO REPRESENT THE COMMUNITY AS A CHICANA ARTIST?
I think Chicano art is very important because of what it stands for. It started with the campesinos and the protests and the posters for the protests and the artwork for the empowerment of campesinos. Then, it started to expand into other statements and other protests and became personal to each Chicano or Chicana artist. And, for me, the movement is very important because it was the beginning of what we see now with the youth with the Latinx. It was the parent of the Mexican American, Latino, Latino art and Latina art movements. Chicano art has flourished into so many other genres, because of the youth and I’m absolutely fascinated to see what they’re coming up with, and what they’re creating. I think that the Chicano movement was the beginning of that collaboration between being a Mexican-American, between being born here and having Mexican blood running through your body. Now, there are so many different movements of Chicano art, but, for me, it was honoring my Mexican heritage through art, through the art of my ancestors, and also embracing the fact and being proud about the fact that I was born here in Pasadena. It’s a beautiful combination and I find it to be very rich. I’m very indebted to my parents for all the work that they did to bring me here and to give me an education and not only teach me how to be an educated, polite well-rounded young lady but also how to be proud and embrace my Mexican blood that runs through my body.
YOUR NEW EXHIBITION, “METAMORPHOSIS, THE EVOLUTION OF VISIONS AND DREAMS,” WILL BE SHOWN AT MOLAA. WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THIS EXHIBIT, AND WHAT SHOULD VIEWERS EXPECT TO SEE?
The inspiration was actually Lourdes I. Ramos-Rivas’. It was her inspiration and she asked me about three years ago to have an exhibition, a one-woman exhibition, and I was just beside myself, so excited and honored. And then, throughout the pandemic, we’ve been talking about and working toward this exhibition. And the curator, Gabriela Urtiaga, during the pandemic, came to my studio with my assistants and picked out artwork. As they held up artwork, she would say “Yes” or “No.” I created hundreds of watercolors during the pandemic, and then she picked the work early on, about a year ago. We started to reach out to the collectors and the patrons of art that have been in support of my work, there are several of those pieces. In the first room, you will see paintings, sculptures and drawings, and then in the second room, you will see paintings, sculptures, ceramics, sculptures with metal, and watercolors. We’ve had some discussions and walkthroughs, so during this time, I will have some more walkthroughs, some more discussions, some more art workshops, signing of the merchandise. And, every now and again, I’ll bring a work of art, and we’ll raffle off a free piece of artwork to somebody in the community.
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING AND REWARDING ASPECTS OF BEING A CHICANA ARTIST OVER THE YEARS?
The most rewarding part of being a Chicana artist throughout the years is the people that I’ve met, the artists that I’ve met all over the world and the community and the kids that I’ve worked with. I’ve worked at several different organizations. I worked at Inner-City Arts for eight years, I worked at Para Los Niños, and I worked at the AltaMed paint program with the senior citizens for I think five or six years before the pandemic. For me, creating art with the community and allowing and sharing that the creative process is whatever that personally is to somebody, and that should be embraced.
WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOLANDA GONZÁLEZ? ARE THERE ANY OTHER ARTIST AVENUES OR TECHNIQUES YOU’D LIKE TO PARTAKE IN, OR STORIES YOU’D LIKE TO TELL, THAT YOU HAVEN’T YET?
There are still so many stories. But right now, I’m preparing for the arrival of one of my muses, her name is Emily, and she goes under the name, “Emily Metal Skin” because she’s a metal jewelry artist as well. She’s going to be coming to Los Angeles and the museum is going to have a program with her, and it’s going to be called “An artist and her muse.” I’m very excited, and I’m sure they’ll be placing the dates on their website. That will be at the end of April. I’m also preparing a new series of works on paper. In May, I’m going to be having an exhibition at the Bermudez Projects in Los Angeles, and that exhibition is going to run through May and June. Those are going to be all new works created on paper. I got inspired by the Sueños, which are usually on canvas. I got inspired by one of the pieces in the museum that is a nude, but if you look closely, it has watercolor underneath, and that was a piece I created probably in the 80s. I put some medium on it, and then I painted it more recently. And I love the idea of layering artwork.