Julio Gonzalez: What If?

By Emiene Wright

Julio Gonzalez wants viewers of his artwork to ask themselves, "What if?"

The artist, who until recently worked mainly as a painter, demands nothing less of himself during his art residency at McColl Center for Art + Innovation, which lasts through August 2018.

His time at McColl Center has allowed him to expand collaborations with other creators and to focus less on the execution of a piece and more on how closely it reflects the truth of his vision. Gonzalez has expanded his repertoire to include the use of textiles, paper-making, and 3D printed fabrications. 

Before the residency, he spent days at a corporate 9 to 5 and worked on art after hours and on weekends. It was difficult balancing it all. “You make time for things that are important to you,” he says.

Ironically, it is that corporate background that has helped him maintain numerous projects and an intense workload now. 

“The corporate environment, dealing with fiscal quarters, and utilizing strategic thinking, puts you in that mindset. It’s the blending of ethereal ideas with action steps; make the plan, follow the plan,” he says. 

Some of the newer mediums he’s exploring, such as augmented reality, require specialized skills, so Gonzalez has become more open to collaboration. He learned to draft storyboards and put them in the hands of people who have studied the particular technique he wants to utilize—for example, a knitted mixed media Mayan headdress that he created with a textile artist. 


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“It’s project management. My artwork is changing because I’m learning to collaborate more efficiently,” he says. “It flows seamlessly and balances my work.”

Having multiple projects going on simultaneously leaves little room for creative blocks. When the mind stalls on one project, he switches to another. He enjoys having the space to spread all the pieces out at once—giving them room to breathe.

“I have access to one of the best studios available so I’m making use of it while I have it,” Gonzalez says of his second-floor studio here at McColl Center.

Julio Gonzalez at work in his studio at McColl Center, fall 2017 [Photo by Chris Edwards for McColl Center for Art + Innovation]

Inspiration comes from everywhere: the news, pop culture, observing social interactions. From the initial spark, he sketches the idea out, writes through the concepts behind it, and then turns it inside out.

“I wonder what if. I think, how big can I make it? How small? How hard can I throw it against the wall,” he says with a chuckle. 

He is currently focused on a body of work that re-imagines what his Honduran or Mexican ancestors would have created with access to, say, a laser cutter or 3D printer. “I’ve been wondering about the Mayan codices, sacred texts similar to the Bible. Only four remain. I’ve been thinking what the books might have looked like and what thoughts they might have held? And so, I’ve decided to create a new codex, that will embody these ideas.” 

Another project, featuring his iconic Gonza Fish, will use technology as a vehicle to explore our relationship with nature. He is also expanding the acclaimed Dia de los Casi Muertos (Day of the Almost Dead), a multimedia project confronting cultural taboos related to death and dying.

Julio Gonzalez, Francisco Gonzalez (from the Día de Los Casi Muertos series), 2016. Chroma print; 32 x 48 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

“I’ve always had a lot of ideas. I’m always thinking about what I see and putting ideas through different processes,” Gonzalez says. “The best advice I’ve gotten at McColl Center is to explore, explore, explore. What would it look like if this painting were ceramic, done on a laser cutter, done with a CNC machine? I used to be a lot more cautious of balancing what I said with how I felt. Now it’s like ‘boom’, here is the physical manifestation of my idea, let’s talk about it.”

As a Charlotte-based artist, Gonzalez feels fortunate to have had an extended McColl Center art residency and, therefore, exposure to three different cohorts of artists-in-residence. Talking with them and seeing their different support structures has broadened his ideas of what it means to maintain a creative lifestyle.

“Everybody has their own way of doing it and it’s heartening,” he says, “because I’m doing it my way.”