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Carlos Gonzalez, sculptor - Miami Herald article, Feb. 2007

Posted by Mark Schneider on December 24, 2011 0 Comments

Metamorphoses: Born in Cuba, inspired by an American, sculptor Carlos González creates new life form

Miami Herald, (Miami, FL)
February 25, 2007
FABIOLA SANTIAGO

The bronze, iron and stainless steel creatures Carlos González has sculpted for his first solo show in Miami, Forms of Life, have no names. More than titled, these "infinite forms of life" are cataloged, like the inventory of a museum, with codes like C-TS 01, C-TS 02. "A cold classification," says the 52-year-old Cuban artist, unassuming in monochromatic blue shirt and jeans and a ready smile, a man easy to talk to and anything but cold.

González's exhibit at Chelsea Galleria in Wynwood is a study of how creatures adapt to their environment. The irony is not lost on González, who has had to perform plenty of metamorphosing to establish his career as a sculptor in three countries.

A lot like his piece SLS 01, an agile "form of life" that, González notes, "can escape so that he won't be eaten alive" (and that from one angle looks like a swift stingray).

Or like C-TS 01, with its pointy chin and three legs ready to sprint, appearing aggressive to some, endearing to others.

Or is it like FI 03, which seems to be shedding its old, useless skin in preparation for flight.

"There are infinite forms of life," González says.

He would know.

In his youth in Cuba, there was the mandatory military service to avoid by enrolling in a "quasi-military" carpentry school that would qualify as service. Lucky for González, the school was near the San Alejandro Institute, Cuba's most prestigious art school, and one day, González came upon a notice for auditions.

He won a spot in San Alejandro, then went on to Escuela Nacional de Arte, as did many serious artists of his generation.

Among his most influential professors were art historian Antonio Alejo, "who made us love art and see the extraordinary talent of Picasso and Calder," and José Antonio Díaz Peláez, who shared with his students his art book collection from the 1950s and encouraged González's generation to "break away from the macheteros [machete-wielding revolutionaries] and mambises [independence fighters] on horseback."

THE REBEL

Díaz Peláez also was a member of a rebellious group of artists known as Los Once (The Eleven), which evolved in the 1950s as an alternative to the traditional European-trained mainstream of Cuban art -- and one of the few from that group who remained in Cuba after Fidel Castro established official censorship of the arts as national policy.

"[Díaz Peláez] expanded my mind outside of school," González says.

Because his style was abstract, inspired by the American Alexander Calder, González was given commissions to create public art projects on the island that didn't have overt political tones. He successfully eluded, he says, the typical government mandate to create "busts of martyrs and leaders and plazas" because "my ability was to make three-dimensional things."

His Arco Encuentro from 1988 is a painted steel sculpture of geometric arches installed at Prado de las Esculturas, a sculpture park in Baconao, Santiago de Cuba.

He also created works for children's parks in which the long petal of a giant orchid became a slide or an octopus became a merry-go-round.

But when it came to his own creative work, González says, he faced a major obstacle.

"Possession of the materials I needed to create my sculptures was illegal," he says.

No one except for people who worked in heavy industries had access to aluminum or steel, nor to industrial paints and sealers.

"I had to steal leftover materials from my government works or buy them illegally," he says. "It was surreal because then I took the completed works to the Ministry of Culture to be exhibited and nobody asked where I got the materials and everyone knew you weren't supposed to have access to those materials."

He exhibited in many group shows in Havana and throughout the island, then later in Miami and the Caribbean, but the opportunity to do solo shows mostly eluded him. Four years ago, a Puerto Rican art dealer saw his work and invited him to exhibit at her Galería Botello in Hato Rey in 2003 and 2005, and his career took off again from there.

He is fairly new to Miami -- he arrived in 2000 -- but not to exile. He left Cuba in 1990, like a lot of artists of his generation, and went to live in Venezuela. He chose Venezuela because he was able to obtain permission to travel there with an invitation from a relative to create fiberglass sculpture.

As he did in Cuba, he became involved in public works, creating six painted steel sculptures in Caracas and in provincial towns from 1992 to 1997. More importantly, once outside Cuba, "I was able to update myself on technological advances," González says. "In Cuba, I had to cut my materials with tin-cutting scissors that ruined my hands."

But Hugo Chávez's rise to power made him flee to Miami.

PACKED HIS BAGS

"When I heard Chávez give that first speech, I said to myself, 'I already lived through this movie.' No way was I going to live through that again."

He calls himself "a rafter of the air," a reference to his flight to Miami with every intention of staying.

"I had to get here and touch land," he says.

In Miami, he had to undergo another metamorphosis to survive -- work as a jeweler. But he never stopped sculpting. He sculpted at home even though making his metal pieces "makes a a lot of noise, smells, and creates a lot of dust."

Last year, he won a competition to create a sculpture for the new 7.3 acre campus of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Palm Beach Gardens. He titled the bright red sculpture From the Shadows to the Light. Visible from PGA Boulevard, the spirals represent the rods and cones found in the retinal layers of the eye.

With the proceeds from that commission, González rented an 800-square-foot warehouse in the Bird Road district, where he created the works he's showing now in Wynwood.

His creatures, come in all sizes and are priced from $2,000 to $25,000. (The largest piece the art dealers call a "giraffe," the one with the long protrusion a "mosquito," the large stainless one a "rabbit" or an "elephant," Long says.)

González smiles at all the interpretations.

"It's whatever you want," he says.

His process of creation, González says, is "a dialogue with the materials." He prefers the challenge of creating the life-sized sculptures to the smaller works so that they "can relate one-on-one with people."

Of his own metamorphosis, the artist says: "My work is able to breath because I can do whatever I want. I don't have the constraints of having to steal my materials."

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