One of an occasional series profiling artists in the Prospect.4 art triennial, a citywide art exhibit that opens Nov. 18 in New Orleans.
For artist Wayne Gonzales, his participation in this fall’s Prospect.4 triennial represents a homecoming of sorts.
Born in New Orleans in 1957 and reared in Arabi, Gonzalez attended Chalmette High School and later studied art at the University of New Orleans before striking out for New York City to make his name as an artist.
But growing up in New Orleans was just as formative for that career. Subjects like the Kennedy assassination — and Jim Garrison’s subsequent New Orleans-based (mis)investigation of it — became motifs for Gonzales to explore in his work.
“The Garrison investigation was a subjective reading,” said Gonzales. “That’s what art does too. I can create a whole body of work that concerns itself with subjective readings.”
The connection between New Orleans and his art was also echoed on a personal level: Gonzales’ mother worked at the New Orleans Museum of Art when he was growing up.
“Even though my mother worked at the museum, we weren’t really an ‘art family.' My main memories of NOMA were the blockbuster exhibitions, like King Tut. I was more interested in the way the museum pulled off these exhibitions — the machinery behind the spectacle,” said Gonzales.
“Still, NOMA was the place I taught myself to make connections about art, to make connections that maybe weren’t quite so linear on the surface — like how you get from African art to Gauguin and Picasso.”
Exploring those connections has been a hallmark of Gonzales’s work ever since.
“When I showed at NOMA in 2012, (former NOMA curator) Miranda Lash made connections between my Lee Harvey Oswald pieces and (artist) John Graham’s harlequin figures. Making connections like that is what art is all about.”
For Prospect.4, Gonzales will be showing a new body of work at the Ogden. It too concerns itself with a subjective reading of history and culture.
“I’ve been working on some paintings based on Walker Evans photographs and Charles Sheeler — looking at differences between then and now and overlaps in landscape in places like New York City and Bethlehem, Pa.,” said Gonzales.
“And for the new New Orleans project, I’m looking at places in places in south Louisiana where the Bayou Painters worked. Some of them were Barbizon-trained — painters who painted in places I could relate to, including St. Bernard Parish. So it’s almost like I came full circle.”
Gonzales also believe that Prospect.4 will be a unique source of inspiration to a new generation of artists in New Orleans.
“As a young artist in New Orleans, I was hungry to see things I didn't already know about,” said Gonzales. “And Prospect.4 will provide access for young artists to be stimulated by things that are going on elsewhere. It’s a chance to see how other people are looking at the world.”