Uziel Gonzalez

Part 1

My name is Uziel Gonzalez and I’m majoring in Graphic Design and 2D art with a minor in Community Arts. Recently, I’ve really shifted my focus in 2D to printmaking and the different ways to engage with the community and the visual arts. I started at Whitworth with a very different path; I had planned for a major in Health Science on the Physician’s Assistant track during my freshman year. My reason to pursue a career in the medical field was to help people through medicine. I understood that for many patients, that was going to be their most vulnerable moment. My mother was a nurse in Mexico; her passion to care for others and help the people who often lacked resources left me inspired. I can now look back and see that it was her care for people, not the career, that inspired me. 

Untitled, 2019, graphite on paper, 24×18 inches

When I took my first fine arts class ever at Whitworth, I had planned for it to be a nice break between my heavier loads like chemistry and biology. I was definitely struggling in those classes, but I thought to myself, “Drawing 1 could be a nice space to relax and do something I like to do as a hobby, so why not?”. I had seen a few assignments my friends had done during Jan Term, so I was excited to try it out myself. I had never taken any art classes all through middle and high school because I felt like I was set on going into the medical field, so this was very new to me. 

Still-life 1, 2019, charcoal on paper, 19.5×25.5 inches

The first assignment Professor Gordon Wilson assigned was a hatching and cross hatching study. We had to choose an object in the still-life setup he had in class. I chose to do a skull which I felt was going to be easier because a lot of lines where already describing the form. It was supposed to be an easy light assignment, but I ended up working over the minimum time stated in the syllabus. I clearly remember working on the drawing and ignoring my chemistry homework that was sitting over on the side. I got lost in the drawing. I had never felt so focused and when I was done, I started feeling uncertain about what I wanted to do with my career path. “Was I majoring in the wrong field? The arts? Really? That’s… no… I can’t do this. It’s a big jump from science to art. What even is a portfolio and now I have to apply to the major?!”. I was very uneasy about changing careers. I’ve been commuting to Whitworth all four years now; during my freshman year I used the bus to travel from the valley to campus. I remember studying for my chemistry exam on the bus and having a lady sit next to me. She asked what I was up to and explained what I was studying and what I wanted to do. She picked up on the fact that I did not like chemistry at all and I was having a hard time. Then she asked me, “then why are you even studying something you don’t like?”. I knew change was coming but I kept denying it because I was honestly afraid that it would be a major and expensive mistake to switch from science to art.

Still-life 3, 2019, colored pencil and charcoal on paper, 30×22.5 inches

Part 2

Before switching my major and completely pivoting from science to art, I had a vague idea of what a career in the arts might look like. It was the classic “starving artist” stereotype and that in the end, art would have been something I study now but later, I would be working in a different field. Of course, I received positive and negative comments from the people around me. Some were supportive and encouraged me to continue pursuing what I love. Others would share how they knew someone who studied graphic design who now work at Costco as a cashier. Everyone has an opinion, good or bad, but thankfully my immediate family was always supportive, and I learned to navigate the – sometimes backhanded – comments I would get. 

It’s now my sophomore year at Whitworth and naturally I’ve signed up for Drawing II. This class gave us a bit more freedom in exploring content in addition to practicing the technical skills in drawing. In the beginning, I was just going through the motions. Not putting too much thought behind the drawings, I’d submit them and get a grade. I enjoyed the process of working on a drawing, but the content was basic and cliché. The classic representation of “life and death” and more still-life drawings; I didn’t push the content any further. Until, of course, Professor Wilson called me out and pushed me to explore more interesting themes and subject matter. Thankfully, it helped me with the diptych assignment. This assignment had us create two drawings that would sit side by side. We were to explore the relationship between the two and include things that were meaningful to us. 

Ni de Aquí, Ni de Allá, 2020, charcoal on paper, 19.5×19.5 inches each

I chose to talk about my identity as a Mexican American who grew up in a Mexican household but when I stepped out, I was in Washington State. This drawing represented the two cultures I navigate but it also meant that I saw them as two very different worlds. The name, I’m Neither from Here, Nor There, is a saying that’s often heard in the Latino community, especially the generations who were born and grew up in the US. The drawing contains the 50 pesos coin my grandpa gave me when I was around 12 years old. Not only does it have sentimental value, but it was a fragment of a country I have never been to. A country I’ve only heard about through stories and the first language I learned to speak. On the right sits a US quarter, representing the other country and culture I grew up in. This self-portrait was where I felt that I finally had something to say as an artist. 

Esperanza, 2020, pastel on paper, 25.5×19.5 inches

I now had a sense of direction in what themes and subjects in art I wanted to explore. Discussing issues of race and identity had always been a major part of my interests. Now I had the chance to share my story through the visual arts. I continued creating work that met the Drawing II requirements but also pushed the stories behind them even further. This second drawing addressed immigration with a sense of hope. At the time, there was a strong resentment against undocumented immigrants and much debate about the building of the border wall since 2016. I created the work by representing the torch that the Statue of Liberty holds and the monarch butterfly, both symbols of hope for immigrants. As Ellis Island received immigrants from across the Atlantic, the monarch butterfly symbolizes the migration of people from the south, in Latin America.  

Supéralo, 2021, digital art, size variable

Today, I continue to explore issues regarding race, identity, and culture through the art I create. These topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion run deep for me as they are always present in my mind. Not only were they made apparent for me at a very young age, but they continue to place me and my family on edge whenever we step outside. We’ve seen the videos and have heard the stories. It’s not a matter of if it’ll happen but when. This digital drawing was one I made to combine text with the drawing. I wanted the words to have a physical and unescapable weight to them. Being words said to me, I’ve had to just move forward, but people’s prejudice continues to follow me through my life. It’s these experiences that forces me and my family to be on edge. We are constantly aware of who we are in the spaces we inhabit. How we speak, act, and look is something we need to be checking to avoid the looks and condescending tones. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s happened enough that we remain careful. It doesn’t stop us from living our lives, but it can be hard to explain these experiences. This drawing is one that I felt I needed to create. It’s an unfortunate story but it’s part of my story. I understand that my experiences are shared. It’s also a part of many other stories.

Part 3

In the fall of my Junior year, I decided to take Community Arts in Practice with Professor Katie Creyts. The class sounded interesting, and it was different from my studio and art history classes I was taking. Our first project of the year was to create two murals for Women’s Hearth in downtown Spokane. The drop-in center provides services for women who are experiencing homelessness including clothing, access to showers, food, and more like arts and crafts classes. Before I took this class, I always knew I wanted to participate in the making of a mural. This class just happened to provide me the skills needed to create one for the community. I saw how important it was to create a connection with the community and to be able to approach the project with an open mindset. It was an article we read for class that really introduced me to the importance of having the arts present in our communities. The writing was created by Eastern Washington graduate students who surveyed women at Women’s Hearth about the art projects they participated in. One example was a bracelet in which they chose each bead and assigned a memory, an experience, or something personal to it. What impacted me the most was how deeply meaningful the project became for the group of women. It created a space for them to share their experiences and stories through the small colorful beads and be able to connect with others. 

Various community arts projects, 2020-21

After a semester’s worth of community arts, I knew I had to continue to work in the community. I decided to add the Community Arts minor and made all my classes fit in the few semesters I had left. I became more involved with the Art club on campus and wanted to plan even more projects to engage students with the visual arts, regardless of if they were art majors or not. We’ve been able to host various projects and events like a collaborative club sticker, an arts festival with other creative clubs on campus, and a zine workshop in collaboration with the library. 

Co-op events and collaborative sticker, 2021-22

In the summer of 2021, I was hired by the Dornsife Center for Community Engagement to work as a summer associate for Spark Central. The organization is a non-profit dedicated to breaking down barriers to creativity in the West Central community. This space was the perfect location to be able to engage directly with the community. Along with the Program Manager, I planned a Digital Art club where I would be working with students from 4th to 8th grade on digital art and design projects. I showed the students to work in design software like Photoshop, Illustrator, and Procreate on the iPad. I knew this was where I needed to be. In the community working through the arts. It was a great opportunity and I’m thankful for the chance to share what I know about art and design to students in West Central. That summer only solidified my desire to participate in community arts and the importance of having these projects for kids.

Various projects made for the Digital Art club and Spark Central, 2021

Part 4

I had only worked with charcoal, graphite, and chalk pastels and I was convinced that my career at Whitworth would be focused on drawing. That was until I registered to take printmaking during Jan term of my junior year. I needed to fulfill the credit for the 2D major anyways, so I decided to take it then to leave space for my drawing classes. Printmaking instead introduced me to a new way of artmaking and I knew I had to keep going. I didn’t take my next printmaking class until the fall of my Senior year. This is where I often felt lost, and I didn’t quite have a focus yet. My interests in culture, identity, and heritage are all a part of what I make. Each print I created seemed to jump from experiences to culture to language and so on. I knew Senior exhibition was coming up so I felt pressure to find something to focus on. Eventually, after going through a few prints that were mid at best, I found it. The 2022 Senior exhibition currently has six pieces of art I created this spring. These pieces feel like a culmination of what I had been thinking of these past years. This last fall, I spent time looking at Mexican printmakers like Leopoldo Mendez and Jose Guadalupe Posada. My focus was on their technique in woodblock relief printing and the content they explored.

Huerta Series, 2022, 5-color silkscreen triptych, 13×18 inches each

This triptych is a portrait of my father. He worked in Central Washington harvesting different kinds of fruits. He primarily worked in the apple and cherry orchards, but he also harvested pears and pruned grapevines. The series highlights the work he did for ten years. Some of the most taxing work he’s done was picking pears. At times, the bag was so heavy that it cut into his shoulders, leaving him scarred. These prints force the viewer to focus on the fruit first and then consider the worker second. It was important to me that the figure was not fully representing my father because these pieces speak to the experiences that hundreds of workers go through. Many of them are immigrants and because of their status, they’re often ignored. However, we gladly enjoy the fruit of their hard work. 

De Aquí Y De Allá, 2022, woodblock diptych, 12×16.5 inches each

These woodblock prints were my first attempt at working with wood as the material for the matrix of the print. After spending a year looking at Mexican printmakers and working on a digital piece that emulated the technique, I wanted to try out the medium. I see these pieces as a response to my coin drawings. The coins symbolized the feeling of displacement. I’d constantly think about the phrase, “I am neither from here, nor there”. These prints, however, speak to the family experience and the cultural heritage I’ve received. They are a part of who I am and I don’t have to choose one over the other. 

Feliz Cinco de Mayo, 2022, mixed media, 22.5×30 inches

This painting, while outside of my preferred media, still speaks to the shared experiences of many first-generation Mexican Americans and other underrepresented people groups. It’s based on a situation that happened in first grade, when my teacher celebrated Cinco de Mayo. She had every Mexican student bring traditional foods and then lined every Mexican student at the front of the class. While she had good intentions in honoring our heritage, it placed us in a strange position. I became aware of who I was and why I was being seen as different. No longer am I just another student in the first grade but I’m also a Mexican kid who has different foods, different language, and a different way of living. While none of those things are negative, it was the moment and feeling that I wanted to capture in this piece. The feeling of being othered while also proud of the heritage I bring. The strange feeling of being a part of this country while also feeling excluded and different. 

These pieces work as one, adding to each other and showing different aspects of who I am. They are personal to me yet, I hope they allow for others to be seen. My work continues to focus on my personal experiences and as I continue developing my artwork, I hope to create space for community and advocacy. These past three years of being a part of Whitworth’s Art + Design department has allowed me to grow as a designer and artist. I’ve learned to create opportunities if there aren’t any, to find and reach out to professionals in the field and connect. While others might worry about the starving artist, I’ll be in the studio and in the community making something.

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