Interdisciplinary artist John C. Gonzalez chats about collaboration and the power of art to transform our worldview.
As this past summer began to shed the last layers of New England cold, Rhode Island artist John C. Gonzalez presented his first mini-retrospective at Brown University, in the David Winton Bell Gallery. Curated by Ian Alden Russell, the exhibition was a quiet and beautiful collection of Gonzalez’s work, tied by a common thread of collaboration, the visibility of labor, and the capacity to create in unexpected places. The show, titled Works Well With Others featured multiple interdisciplinary works across the mediums of painting, sculpture, and performance. Most notably, Gonzalez worked collectively with a group of employees from Bel Terra Landscaping, a landscaping company contracted by Brown for maintenance of the campus grounds, as well as Verde Design + Horticulture, to build a lush indoor garden in the heart of the exhibition. Created by John C. Gonzalez along with Juan Reyes, Pamela Rodgers, Julin Sanchez, Philip Taylor, and Julin Vasquez, the garden produced a shared space for personal reflection and self-healing.
The Brown retrospective captured Gonzalez’s passion as an artist, his constant conversation with art and institutions of labor, the daily exchange of human interaction, and the ways in which creativity is promoted or stifled in a flourishing era of capitalism. “Works Well With Others was about embedding myself into spaces where self-expression is not always encouraged or productive,” says Gonzalez, whose interest in working collectively with laborers stems from his own experience as a tradesman and retail worker. “In these spaces, I wanted to create moments for creativity and exploration.”
In 2013, Gonzalez was commissioned by the deCordova Biennial to create his project, Home Depot House (2013-14). Employed in Providence by the giant home improvement retailer at the time, he worked with his fellow co-workers to build a house. “In a place like Home Depot, you do not really have an opportunity to be super creative,” he acknowledges. “It is not really designed for that space because it is a retail environment. So for me, to work with management to be able to make something that was ours was subversive, because the power structure didn’t initially allow for it. And for me, art is a powerful thing.” From building a home to building a garden, Gonzalez stretches the space between formal art and craftsmanship, enabling art to have a broader sphere and wider accessibility to those who may not consider themselves artists.
Outside of his collaborative sculpture and performance work, Gonzalez is a painter at heart; along with being a full-time father of two, he works at a paint shop by day. Finding collectivity in the seemingly mundane is central to Gonzalez’s artistic approach. “As artists, anytime we buy supplies for our work, like paint, someone had to make that, which leads to a transaction. Every time we find things or buy things, there is always a collaborative relationship, no matter what you do—like buying gas or buying clothing. For me, it is something that shouldn’t be overlooked, but instead be put at the forefront. It makes us reexamine all of these relationships we have every day with people, because we are all creating and doing.”
In June, Gonzalez will be presenting Painting Library, a solo exhibition at the Essex Art Center in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where visitors will be able to borrow paintings from the show for the duration of the exhibition. That same month, he’ll also be featured in a group show curated by John Finnerty and Francisco Gonzalez at The Wurks in Providence.
Top photo Collaborative Garden, 2016 | Designed and installed in collaboration with Bel Terra employees inside David Winton Bell Gallery in Providence, RI | Photograhy by Jesse Banks III
This post has been updated to reflect recent changes.