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→ The full interview with Arthur Gonzalez is featured in Ceramics Now Magazine - Issue One / Winter 2011-2012.
Ceramics Now Magazine: You are one of the most assiduous ceramic artists in the world, with hundreds of exhibitions over more than thirty years. Why did you choose this career path?
Arthur Gonzalez: If by career path you mean, “why did I choose to be an artist?” I was one of those guys who always knew that they wanted to be an artist. I honestly cannot remember a time that I did not draw. I remember drawing in kindergarten. I took my first oil painting class with my mother at age 7. I identified with being an artist my whole life so the path was “written on the wall” so to speak. Also, times were different thirty years ago when I graduated from UC Davis. The word “career” was subject to interpretation. I remember that all I wanted to do once I graduated was to do whatever I needed to do to keep making art without needing to work a “regular” job. This was a huge factor, because if one wants to make art their whole life they need to be creative in terms of how to do that. As a consequence, I learned how to make a career instead of only making a lot of things.
Everything, 2007, ceramic, glaze, rope, blown glass, ink, epoxy, gold leaf, gut, pollen, 40”x42”x12” - View Arthur Gonzalez’s works
When did you realize that ceramic art was important for you?
My relationship with ceramics has always been a double-edged sword, because I originally didn’t identify with ceramics or sculpture. In the beginning, I used clay to make a better painting!
My formal undergraduate art education at American River College in Sacramento and later California State University was as a photo-realist painter, this was the art movement of the time and all my teachers were photo-realists. I, although formally trained with all the exactitude and precision of a realist, was extremely frustrated. I wanted my paintings to be more expressionistic, spontaneous and “rule breaking”, but the training and dictum of “painting the right way” was so hardwired that I needed to change the very physicality of the painting’s object-ness. I realized that when addressing the white geometric canvas, specifically when the paintbrush approached the edge of the canvas, my gestures would be stilted and choked. I was too intimidated by its rigidity. I remember thinking that if I was too influenced by the edge, then I needed to change that edge.
Meanwhile, at California State University, at the opposite side of campus from the painting lab, was the ceramic department. Two of the professors there were Peter Vandenberge and Robert Brady, both were UC Davis alumni and former students of Robert Arneson. It was by watching them make their clay sculpture and witnessing the ways that they both treated the clay as a mud that did their bidding, that first attracted me to it. This was an epiphanous moment. I remember thinking that clay was the perfect replacement for canvas on stretcher bars. Upon returning to my studio, I slung a number of clay slabs and stretched them on the floor and then fired them, resulting in “bisque canvases” of non-geometric shapes, like a stack of so many pancakes. Then, using oil paint, I reacted to the silhouette of the shape by painting-in imagery that would co-relate to the swells and dips of the randomly shaped ceramic slabs. In my eyes, clay was a remedy not a historical material. Ironically, I later dispassionately applied to graduate school at UC Davis to study ceramics sculpture under Robert Arneson knowing that I was competing against real ceramic artists who knew more about clay than slinging slabs, which literally was all I knew! It was those first experiments with oil paintings on ceramic slabs that got me into graduate school. My education of clay as a material didn’t start until my time with Robert Arneson. The one thing that I loved about clay was how I now could make things that could distance me from the confines of oil on canvas and, as a result, lifting the weight of the ‘History of Painting’ off my shoulders. When I thought of ceramics, I didn’t see “History” or “Tradition” or “right and wrong”. In fact, I didn’t even think of it as “ceramics”, I thought of it as clay that you made hard. To me the material was only material, and because I came to it through the back door it represented to me to be absolute freedom, a kind of sanctuary from the rules of painting and, as a result, pure invention.