Q+Art: Marcelina Gonzales Explores Identity and Culture with Intimate Resin Works
Marcelina Gonzales creates oil-tinted resin works that reconstruct the artist’s memories of growing up in an American border town. Gonzales was born in Brownsville, a thriving town at the southernmost tip of Texas known for its unique fusion of Mexican and American cultures. Her work explores the hard-won struggle for empowerment and identity growing up Hispanic and female in a marginalized and often misunderstood area of the country.
“[Brownsville] is often regarded with contempt by outlets that promote its poverty, lack of education, and danger,” writes Gonzales in her artist statement. “I am working to reconcile the shame triggered by the circumstances and external barriers set by my perceived identity.” Despite being heavily influenced by race, class, and gender, Gonzales’ work is filled with universally recognizable childhood milestones. In “First Act of Rebellion,” a young girl observes a teenage right of passage by cutting her own bangs in the bathroom mirror. Similarly, works that depict the artist whiling away summer vacation hours watching TV feel comforting and familiar.
In each composition, Gonzales carefully constructs a mini coming-of-age narrative that lays bare the awkward yet magical nature of adolescence. The high-gloss resin creates a stylized surface that mirrors both the murkiness and rosy nostalgia of a childhood memory. Gonzales sees these adolescent images as both universal and personal, allowing the work to bridge the gap between individual identity and the broader need to belong.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Marcelina Gonzales discusses the joys of cafeteria-style pizza, navigating the gallery system as an introvert, and the effects of anxiety on an artist’s studio practice.
What one book belongs on every artist’s shelf?
Marcelina Gonzales: If you are a delicate and fragile person like me, I would recommend Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. I have had a really long and arduous journey to finding light with my mental health. I grew up taking meds to balance my brain so that I felt less sad and anxious. This is why I call myself fragile, because I know how far I have come to finding my “OK,” and if something collides with me, I may break. Unfortunately, when this happens it becomes a darkness that seeps from my personal life into my studio. I understand that I need to put in the work to make myself feel better if I am feeling down. But when I stay down for longer than usual, I begin counting the days that I have been unable to make work, and the studio becomes my monster. It’s a cycle that perpetuates fear of work, and this book helped me understand that I am not alone in this. I will admit, this book doesn’t really offer any advice on how to overcome this fear, but helps if you are like me and are a little too proud to seek words of comfort or commiseration from others.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
MG: Without a doubt it would be Egon Schiele. I don’t know if I would want to have dinner with him though, I am way too shy and timid for that. I also read somewhere that he seduced a 13-year-old—eww. Not sure I would want to be in conversation with him to be honest. Instead, I would love to be a fly on the wall in his studio and watch him work. His work dramatically changed the way I thought about art and approached materials. I’d annoyingly follow him around while he set up his model, gathered his materials, and worked. The process is what fascinates me.
What are you trying to express with your art?
MG: My works are little snapshots of my life so far. They call back to the delicate and very awkward time in which I was navigating my way from childhood, through adolescence, and into womanhood as a young Hispanic. I love to share little stories of my past that seemed monumental at that time but, when reexamined at this point in my life, are free of worry, radiate innocence, and are filled with love. This way of working happened pretty recently—around my 30th birthday. I started noticing my face and body were changing and this had me thinking a lot about memory. The thought of growing old and being unable to remember the details of life really worried me. I started to look back on my time growing up here in Brownsville, Texas, and questioned if what I was remembering was legitimate, had been modified, or was just completely made up by pictures or stories. I also found myself evaluating who I was and trying to work through feelings of inadequacy and shame that I felt while growing up. When I was younger I always perceived myself as this poor Mexican girl who lived in a tiny house and wasn’t very smart. I was embarrassed and ashamed of things I couldn’t control, like my name and my culture. Now, as an adult, I feel ashamed once again—ashamed for thinking this way. I almost feel like I have a responsibility to try and honor where I came from in an attempt to make amends. My work celebrates my culture, upbringing, family, and all of the important things I didn’t respect, understand, or value when I was growing up.
Do you prefer New York- or Chicago-style pizza?
MG: Food relates directly to memory for me. When I think of pizza, I am taken back to the 7th grade. There was palpable excitement in the air when my public school served pizza in the cafeteria. The cardboard-like pizza was served in sad rectangles and the pepperonis looked like rocks. Yeah, it was not the best, but it’s the feeling, you know? So if it is New York- vs. Chicago-style pizza, it’s going to be New York. And that is only because I’ve experienced the joy of eating it while unknowingly sitting on a gum-infested window sill outside on a cold and rainy December night. New York pizza wins. Though, sadly, I have never had the opportunity to visit Chicago. I might need to get back to you on this one.
Would you work for free in exchange for exposure?
MG: Why are artists still being asked to work for free?! I’ve opened way too many emails with exciting pitches that end with the insulting “payment in exposure.” And they almost always come from people outside the art world. This is especially common here in Brownsville, Texas, where art is not really valued or accepted as anything other than a hobby. It’s the culture I was raised in, so I understand it. Art is not something I experienced at all while growing up. You work as much as you can, and if you have free time, you spend it with your family. Only with age and contact with other places and people did I understand this is not the only way to live. Art has value and is a career; artists should be paid. I can’t convert my passion for making art into money to pay off my mortgage.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
MG: “Dateline”—but only the ones with Keith Morrison. I love watching and listening to anything true crime related, but I feel kind of bad about it. It seems wrong and almost exploitative to listen to a story that centers on a family’s most painful moment for my entertainment. But I am so captivated and almost soothed by the tone of Keith Morrison’s voice. He is so exceptionally skilled at exposing the human condition of a criminal and the lives that are affected. I love him!
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
MG: I had the pleasure of participating in a three-person exhibition, The Expectations of Others, at Field Projects Gallery in New York City. This show is the most exciting and completely unexpected opportunity that has ever been offered to me. I applied to their open call, and the juror at the time passed on my work. Later in the year I received an email from one of the partners at the gallery inviting me to be in an exhibition they were curating. They remembered my work and kept me in mind for shows that were coming up in the future. I was floored. I made plans to attend the exhibition but was feeling really nervous about it. I had this image of New York, and especially artists from big cities, as being eccentric, pretentious, and in your face. Once again the all-too-familiar feelings of inadequacy started to appear. When I arrived at the opening I was met with such warmth and kindness I can’t believe I almost canceled the trip. Opportunities like this are very eye-opening for me as a human and as an artist. They really validate why stepping out of your box is essential. I had the privilege of showing alongside incredible artists and made new art friends during the process. It was such a dream!
Is a formal arts education worth the money?
MG: I feel very conflicted when I get asked this question because I value the education that I received in art school, but stand by my decision to not pursue my graduate degree. When I was an undergrad, I was so unhealthy. I had this pretty insane and unrealistic idea of what was expected of artists. This included how they should speak, dress, and carry themselves: eccentric, outspoken, unique, and pretentious. All of these behaviors were (and still are) the antithesis of who I am. I now know I made up these notions in an attempt to justify my fear of being an artist. Despite this, I was a very good student. No matter the subject, I wreck my body to fulfill a deadline or get a good grade on an assignment. When I was in school, I was manic, the most depressed I had ever been. I hated myself and would have anxiety attacks that lasted for days at a time. Toward the end of my time there, art stopped being fun, and I was pretending to love every single second of it. I think what I learned there made me the artist I am today but only fundamentally. I changed my medium from painting to what I am doing now (resin collage) many years after graduating. I learned so much more through experiences within the art world, and in traveling, exhibiting, and meeting others outside of where I am from.
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
MG: I am the definition of “introvert.” I am incredibly shy and timid, and was raised to respect others to such an extreme that I now recognize it made me a little scared of people. If you meet me in person, I may outwardly seem a little uneasy and unsure of what to do with my hands, but I am the farthest thing from incompetent. I have had quite a few negative encounters at openings where people interpret my shy demeanor as a negative trait and as someone who wasn’t really “made” for the art world. I think it would be nice if it was a little bit more welcoming.
Would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist?
MG: Without thinking too hard about it I think, I would choose being commercially successful vs. historically significant. To help me decide I look back and think of the most basic desire I had when I was younger—wanting to be liked. When somebody purchases my work, I am infused with such accomplishment and joy. It validates me completely. It still feels unbelievable that people I don’t know personally value what I do. My self-confidence is a work in progress.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice?
MG: Throughout the years my art studio became my "happy place." It was where I could find joy, and really relax and be at peace with my thoughts. But wow. This pandemic has really changed my relationship with my practice. My work is directly based on my own memories and experiences, which very much includes me recalling times with my family and loved ones. Family is huge in my culture; it is the glue that holds everything in place for me. And thinking about them during this pandemic (are they ok, will they be ok?) has put me in such distress. Working on art that is based on these beautiful memories of them now only makes me focus on the fact that they may be gone tomorrow. Then I got COVID and my mental health and practice were affected tenfold. I was alone, isolated, and scared. After my quarantine I was physically healthy, but I just couldn’t get out of bed. The period of quarantine left me alone, depressed, and completely immobilized by a feeling of emotional pain. I started to count the days I had been away from my studio. I would harp on how behind I was getting on my work. I would look at my Instagram feed and see my artist friends just taking advantage of staying at home, and being so productive. So as the days passed, my studio became this huge monster that I could not face.
How do you think the coronavirus pandemic will impact the art world in the long term?
MG: I look forward to feeling the excitement of travel and the freedom of getting lost in a museum grander than the biggest building in my hometown. I never realized how much I took for granted. There has been so much loss. My focus is on keeping my family safe and staying healthy. In an effort to stay safe, a lot of exhibitions went online, and I know I am not the only one who felt lackluster about it. I believe that community, and that in-person shared experience, is a really large part of viewing art, and is very valuable. During this pandemic I have admittedly been pretty unproductive, but I know there are a lot of artists who have been producing work nonstop and with such ferocity. I am hopeful for the future of the art world, but am not quite sure how this pandemic will impact it long term. What I do know is the art world will not be the same when we come out of this. There will be a lot of work to do to get back to where it was—but so much work to view!
Marcelina Gonzales: Website
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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