Cristina Gonzlez first noticed a change in light when she moved to New Mexico from Seattle after being awarded a Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program grant in 1998.
“My color changed immediately once I moved to Roswell. The light in New Mexico is very distinct. Unusual. I was painting with heavy blues and grays - the hues of the cloudy northwest sky - but immediately switched to yellows, reds, the vibrant colors of the desert landscape. It wasn’t a conscious switch.”
Gonzlez called Roswell home for twelve months. The prestigious grant - one of only two like it in the country - gave her the gift of time, a year in a provided home with a separate working studio, no demands, a monthly stipend. She lived among six other artists, painted in her pajamas, stole the New Mexican light and splashing it onto her canvas, creating warm, inviting portraits of earthy women who walk in a land of levitating flowers, of sky melted with ground.
“It was an amazing time for me,” reflects Gonzlez. “I was one year fresh out of graduate school, a very young painter, dealing with the problem of influence. I was dropped in the desert. The sense of isolation was overwhelming. My work split in a different direction, it was deep questioning time. I had been working on a New Mexican tradition called retableaus. I was doing these contemporary retableaus and realized I was not a retableau painter. My work went in different directions, and I started painting self-portraits.”
Gonzlez’ work still reflects those early self-portraits. Women stare from her canvas, their eyes the same questioning dark orbs of their maker. Land and atmosphere mix in beautiful yet uneasy ways; they tumble over each other, giving levitation to simple objects like fruit and flowers, giving roots to clouds and wind.
“My work satisfies many metaphors for me. I’m exploring those questions you can’t answer with words,” says Gonzlez. “That’s what painting is for me, exploring questions.”
Gonzlez stayed in New Mexico, and now shares a Las Vegas home with her husband, painter and budding chemist David Glass, and their young daughter. She teaches at Highlands University and the Santa Fe Community College, teaches figure drawing and painting to a range of eager students from the traditional arts major fresh out of high school to people with advanced degrees who are dedicating their time to the arts.
“Teaching requires patience.” Gonzlez paused. She swept golden-brown hair from her eyes. “Every individual has a unique learning style, even among very young students. I have to listen carefully. People often have personal ideas about their work and need someone to recognize what they wish to accomplish. I have also learned that every ‘failure’ is actually an opening to something else; it can all be used in the classroom. There’s weak work and strong work, more effective ways to say things, but you can’t fail at art.”
Gonzlez’ work is currently displayed in three New Mexico art exhibits.
Beyond the Gift of Time, Current Work by Former Fellows of the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program can be seen at the Roswell Museum and Art Center now through January 13, 2008.
A spin-off show featuring alumni from forty-years of the program is running through December 29 at 516 Arts in Albuquerque.
Gonzlez’ oil on canvas, Butterflies, is on display as part of Originals 2007, a juried and invitational exhibition of New Mexican woman artists. Hosted by Harwood Museum of Art and the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, the show runs through Dec. 30.