A Point of View
By Kylie Cooper
The world of art as a whole, is unquestionably subjective. When one decides to create a piece of work, and put it out in the public eye, they are also agreeing to allow complete strangers the ability to interpret said work. However, an artist’s point of view is often the theme they hope to scream through their canvas – whether that scream be subtle or not. Their point of view is what allows individuals to exist in such a saturated world of craft in the first place. In the midst of remix culture, there are few original ideas, yet the individuality and history of an artist is expressed in their work through that point of view. Sometimes, the personal perspective is very distinct and intentional; other artists are more obscure and indirect. Whatever form it takes, viewpoint is the elevating factor – it is what sets you apart from the rest. With an opportunity to explore four different local artists’ specific points of view, we dove deep. Our team was invited into each artist’s work space – a sacred place for most – where we got the chance to be immersed into the message these creators attempt to share with all who will listen.
An Origin Story
Every journey begins somewhere. There might not always be a specific moment in time we can pinpoint, but there is always an inaugural memory we refer back to when thinking about how we got to where we currently are.
For Sandra Gonzalez, a local independent painter whose works mix the practice of realism through cultural identity, the artistic journey began after moving to Laredo, Texas. Her high school art class became a safe space following the move to America; this is where she first discovered acrylic paints and the concepts of color theory. Her mind, as she puts it, was opened. “I was 14 years old when we moved to Laredo,” Gonzalez says as she begins to recall her foundation. We are sitting at a fold-out table in her home studio, surrounded by stacks of canvases leaning against the walls. “A lot of people still speak Spanish there, so I never felt a huge culture shock when moving to America. But I had self-confidence issues; I couldn’t speak any English whatsoever. So, at times, I felt as though I couldn’t properly express myself. But then, there was art – it allowed me to express my thoughts when I didn’t have the words to do so.”
With encouraging parents supporting her dream, she graduated high school and enrolled in the Laredo Community College to obtain her Associate of Arts, then on to Texas A&M International University at Laredo for her BA, Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi for her MA in Painting, and lastly, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for her MA in Fine Arts. Her resumé is stacked with impressive stewardships, teaching positions, various visiting artist and panel judging credits, and gallery exhibitions. It is safe to say Gonzalez found her passion, hit the ground running, and hasn’t stopped since. During her time at TAMU-CC, she was actively sending every piece of work to be shown in various Chicano galleries in California. She remained in Pennsylvania after obtaining her MFA for a position with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, where she worked under Betsy Casañas, a prominent mural artist. While she refers to this time in her life as being the turning point in her career, she made the move back to South Texas one year later in effort to be closer to her family and her now husband, Earl.
Some 2,600 miles south of Laredo (and a couple decades prior), Angalee DeForest, a realist landscape and plein-air artist, was being raised in Venezuela. Her family relocated to the South Texas area, which led to DeForest attending boarding school in San Antonio. Her first real memory of art comes in the form of a paint set gifted to her by her brother when she was about 12. She studied Fine Art at the University of Texas in Austin, and independently with nationally known artists throughout the United States. After meeting her husband on Padre Island during an Easter break vacation, the two soon became a military family – which means their journey contains several notches of travel destinations. In 2006, after deciding to move to Rockport in order to take care of her husband’s mother, their family finally became planted … but a new phase in her 40-year art career was about to begin.
She begins to recall her experience of becoming submerged into the Rockport art scene – one for which it is well known. With one of her five cats, a gray and fluffy little guy named Cruiser, purring away on the upper part of the couch we are sharing, the story unfolds. “My husband was from here, you see, but I wasn’t. So I didn’t really have a whole lot of friends,” she says. “I joined the Art Center immediately and got involved over there. But, truly, the people in the art community really kind of took me in – they made me feel like I belonged here.” DeForest credits local artists such as Steve Russell and the late Tom Kantz for helping her find her place. From inviting her into their close circles to actually painting together, she is grateful to have received such an encouraging welcome. She planted her roots into the Rockport art community and joined the Wind Way Gallery – which, in turn, provided her with a second family of sorts. “That is just an incredibly supportive group of people,” she says. “I mean, it’s more than just the art: we’ve seen each other through deaths of spouses and children, all kinds of things. It is a support system I am so thankful for.”
We travel forward in time and across the Atlantic Ocean – to Bratislava, Slovakia, where Katarina Janeckova Walshe was figuring out who she was. A drawing exists, made by Walshe around the age of 8, depicting a woman painting, with the words “I want to be a painter” written next to it. In a sense, you could say she was manifesting her own destiny. As she was preparing for school, she had every intention of going down a traditional route: attending school to become a masseuse, or joining some bi-lingual gymnasium and doing something with that. However, it was her mother who actually suggested she go to art school. “My parents were a great influence on me,” she says as her baby girl, not yet two years old, sits next to us on a blanket eating blueberries, in Walshe’s beautifully curated paradise of a garden outside her home studio. “So many parents discourage their children from going down an artistic path, and I am so thankful mine were supportive of it. They wanted me to do something I was passionate about.”
And so, Walshe attended the High School of Applied Art of J. Vydra, and went on to study at the Academy of Fine Art, where she obtained her MA in Painting. While in school, the art scene in Slovakia was much different than here in the United States. Walshe recalls the concept of PR and the selling of works as something that other artists looked down upon. But, Walshe and her best friend (a fellow artist, studio mate, and her first boyfriend who also happened to be gay), decided to start a revolution of sorts. They began hosting parties where people could come and view their works, drink, eat, and mingle. Doing this allowed her to gain the confidence she would need after leaving school, because her name was already out there in the art hemisphere – she already had people collecting her works before graduating. Around the same time she was getting done with school, she met her husband on a diving trip. Their love brought her here, to the Coastal Bend – where she has lived for the past six years.
Now, we travel back both in time and over the Atlantic Ocean some 7,000 miles or so to Lynchburg, Virginia, where a young Ben Wright was learning to walk in the late ’40s. As we sit in K Space Studios on a couch covered by a colorful blanket near the open windows, I ask Wright how he got to the Coastal Bend. His response: “That’s a good question,” followed by a tumultuous laugh – this, turns out, is very true to form for him. His family moved to Corpus Christi by the time he was in elementary school, and by the early ’60s, they were relocated to California. But art wasn’t always his passion. In fact, he hadn’t given it a single thought until he began submitting drawings to art magazines. You could send an illustration of, say, a pirate or a deer, and they would enroll you in a correspondence course where you would submit art and illustrators would send you back critiques. Turns out, he was pretty good at it. He had a corporate job, but, similar to a significant portion of mid-20-year-olds in corporate America, he felt a lack of fulfillment at the end of the day. So the next obvious move was to quit his 9-to-5 and pursue a full-time career in art. By the early ’80s, he was showing and selling his work in Los Angeles.
I won’t list out all the places he called home after that, but he didn’t make it back to this neck of the woods until 1986, and even after that, it wasn’t a permanent move. Around 2015, he decided to opt out of a traditional lifestyle, and hasn’t had an actual address ever since. “I really was just passing through Corpus, you know, on one of my runs.” Jimmy Peña, a fellow K Space artist he had met years prior, told him a studio space was available, so he paid the rent and has been working out of his studio space there ever since. When I ask why he decided to stay, he says, “The space was available, but the community here – there is nothing like it. The art scene downtown was kind of revitalizing itself, and the community was undeniable.”
A Point of View
Where and how we began are influences on who we become, but there’s always more to the story than that. Other factors, from personal preferences to family history, help inform our worldviews, and choosing to concentrate on those factors can give artists direction and focus in their work.
While these patterns, colors, and motifs are present in her mural work (Gonzalez is the lead artist behind the Caller Times mural and the new YWCA mural), her personal work tends to dive deeper into emotions, and sometimes draws on past and current events from her culture and history. A large round painting hanging above her work station – it almost looks like an extremely oversized cross stitch – is a self-portrait showing Gonzalez lying on the ground in front of a monument on the border in Laredo.
Sandra Gonzalez, who primarily paints with acrylics for her murals and oils for her personal pieces, has a habit of pulling heavily from her heritage when it comes to the images portrayed in her work. Her grandmother plays a significant role in a lot of her paintings. “My creative process often starts by looking at family portraits,” she says. “I am very influenced by the textiles my grandmother would wear.” She points to a box on the shelf next to us that is filled with hundreds of fabric scraps. “The patterns and colors, you know, they can paint a portrait without even painting a face.”
“This piece deals with immigration and the experiences of growing up in a border town,” she says. “I was born in Mexico, but I have been a U.S. citizen for some time now, and you always have that feeling of duality inside of you.” She talks about having family members who still live in Mexico and friends who are DREAMERS, and the fact that not everyone has the opportunity to share a message with the world. “I think it is important to have a point of view as an artist, not just to stand out, but because not everyone has the opportunity to put things out into the world for others to see. It’s like we have this gift or this duty to expose concepts others are feeling.”
For Angalee DeForest’s work, which is primarily done in oils, geographical beauty is the guiding light. With a very limited palette of white, two reds, sometimes two yellows, and a blue, she depicts landscape images in hopes of underscoring the necessity of conservation for various environments. “I am always looking – I see things everywhere I go,” she says. “There is so much beauty here that is disappearing right from under our noses, and I think we need to capture that as much as we can.”
Preserving those beautiful elements of the world, and showing others how important they are, allows DeForest to share with others a need to hold on to that beauty. Other than conserving the Earth’s natural splendor via impeccable realist paintings, DeForest’s true point of view comes across in a feeling she hopes to instill in the viewer. “I hope my work communicates something to cause people to smile and to love. It should be something of a healing feeling,” she says. “This day and era, it seems like we are being pounded over the head with negativity, and somewhere along the way, we need to have a spot for people to stop and smile and experience some peace.”
Making people feel or appreciate something has always been her goal. She recalls a story of her late husband once telling her how grateful he was, because if not for her, he never would have really seen things. Whether it is with a landscape painting, her portrait work, or any practice she dabbles in, that remains her point of view: showing the viewer both beauty and positivity.
Katarina Janeckova Walshe’s point of view heavily revolves around sexuality and the human body, two subjects that have long captivated her. As early as the age of 18, tones of sexuality were present in her works. The female body and empowerment are a point of view threaded through each of her pieces. “My paintings are and always were super sexual, because I was beginning to create at an age where those types of conversations were beginning to be had. When you are 18, you begin to understand sexuality and start having questions about it, and you explore that. It was a topic that allowed me to truly feel free – and I have always loved the body and the way it looks,” she says.
If you’ve seen any of her work, which is done in both acrylic and oil, you’ll be familiar with the motif of a brown or black bear. The bear is representative of a man – or, more generally, whatever form the viewer’s partner might take. “To paint a man,” she says, “I feel like I would either have to love that man or really know that man, but I don’t want to paint a random man’s face. So instead, I paint the bear, and it allows both me and the viewer to play with fantasies and interpret it as they wish.”
Walshe said she isn’t thinking about sexuality in a controversial way; she isn’t ever trying to shock the viewer. And as her work developed, she feels as though her interpretation of sexuality matured as well. That maturity is seen even more in her recent works, now that she is a mother. While the over-arching theme has an undertone of sexuality, it comes in various forms. Walshe recalls her anxieties of motherhood altering her works before her daughter was born. “I still paint with the idea of human relationships and intimacy, but I’m not ever forcing anything,” she says. “It has different qualities now, and because of that I second-guessed myself for a little bit.” But she has learned to embrace that change and, after an overwhelming positive response from her recent show at K Space (which featured various images depicting a woman and the concept of motherhood), she is continuing to let her point of view flow.
Both cultural identity and history play a significant role in Ben Wright’s point of view as an artist. Wright, who is part Cherokee, started his narrative of Native-themed paintings more because of his love for history – however, the deeper he dove into the spiritual learnings of North American tribes, specifically their beliefs and mysticism, the more that began to influence him and traveled to the forefront of his pieces. “It is empowering to identify your own uniqueness, as opposed to ascribing to what other people tell you to be,” he says in regard to the evolution of consciousness displayed in his works.
His artistic point of view is very similar to that of his overall view on existence. The morals of both his paintings and how he lives his life are almost interchangeable. “I guess what I am trying to say as an artist is that we are all related and connected through our spiritual essences,” he says. “We are all just trying to manifest ourselves as the best human beings we can possibly be.” These concepts of self-identity and the inward journey are key components to the spiritual teachings he has studied – and because of that, those essences became the motif for his works. He describes it as attempting to express those teachings in a visual way.
When it comes to the importance of a point of view, Wright is on a similar page as Gonzalez: When you’re an artist, you have this implicit duty to bring messages, that might otherwise go unnoticed or unexplored, to foreground in a viewer’s consciousness. He describes artists as having this unique perspective on life because of the creative filters they use to view it. “You open up new possibilities for people by exposing them to new ideas,” he says, “and that is crucial.”
And he is right. Without these various perspectives or points of view, our world would certainly be less colorful – in the actual sense of the word color, but also in the sense of ideas, and the fact that seeing things from various perspectives is the only way we can coexist as individuals on the same planet. Each of these four artists, while their singular points of view are vastly different from one another, have an ultimate end goal of advancing the thought of the viewer; hoping to bring a new concept into their worlds. After all, without a point of view, the world would just be variations of a monochromatic grayscale anyway, right?