Heartache, Turmoil and Hope Abound: Raul Gonzalez III & Elaine Bay
The turmoil of existence is a central theme to Raul Gonzalez III’s work as demonstrated in this exhibition through portrayals of displacement, disillusionment and hope in the American dream. In this collaboration, Elaine Bay’s make-shift rafts add weight to Gonzalez’s scenes of characters sailing away from their homelands, starting our journey and transforming the space at Villa Victoria in Boston’s South End into a moving storybook. Guided by the heavy use of art historical symbols of country and hardship, the handmade rafts and painted sails signify the wayward traveler. These small scale installations bring Gonzalez’s work into the viewer’s space, forcing us to walk around and internalize these feelings of leaving and loss. – Anna Schindelar, Boston Contributor
In the first room the viewer is confronted with two rafts. Rudimentary in nature, wood planks and rubber tires are hastily bound together and the decks are strewn with traveler paraphernalia: a tied trash bag of belongings, empty bottles. Gonzalez’s portrait is of a young boy looking back upon the home he’s leaving behind (“The Shape of Your Path”). Among other telltale symbols of a hard journey, (a patched inner tube, an empty water bottle, human skulls in the waters below), upside down American flags are planted at the stern signifying distress. The discomfort and longing are palpable, however, mixed subtly in with this dire vignette, there lies humor. Hope is latent throughout the painting as the boy sports a superhero eye mask and there is cheeky humor in the word “mojado” scribbled on the water bottle. These injections of lightness bring us away from the sadness and despair of a child leaving his home and instead we can hope that there may be a positive path ahead.
Walking through the exhibit to the next room acts as a fast-forwarding button; we recognize our same hero from before, only now it is years later, and he’s made it to his new home, the land of opportunity! Yet, unfortunately we soon learn that our hero is confronted with a far less than ideal welcome. In “Wandering Man (Sand)”, a square-jawed law enforcement agent is erected as an impenetrable wall between our hero and the Promised Land. The landscape markers again inform; traditional elements of the Southwest United States and Mexico appear as cactus and arthropods dot the foreground and our hero is dressed in traditional guayabara white shirt and pants, maintaining his cultural identity. From this particular piece, there looks to be no easy way of passing this ranger to get across this border, and again our hero is left ruffled, deterred and wanting.
Further dispelling the American Dream of opportunity for all is Gonzalez’s next piece, “Black Cloud Buzzing”, which is the strongest of the show both technically and metaphorically. Here our hero is caged like an animal in the middle of the barren desert. Impending black clouds are moving in, bringing promise of more misery to our hero and pushing us closer to losing all hope for a new life. Elaine Bay’s witty, adjacent installation adds to this feeling of hope abandoned; her piece, “La Limpia (Acostada)”, is a raft that has been stripped of its rubber tubes that kept it afloat, its remnants now mirror that of a car in an alley void of tires, up on cinder blocks. Alone and trapped, without a lifeboat, this is a far cry from the hopes we had for our young sailor at the beginning, who was setting off from heartache to find a better life.
Rounding out the remaining work, the exhibition ends with a summation series of four pieces. Each piece is covered almost entirely in cartoon clouds of dirt and fighting figures’ flailing arms, bent limbs and loose teeth. These portraits are movement personified and show the end results of a mess of broken glass, dirtied white guayaberas and dead mice. Here, in the piece, “Dust Cloud Series, Raul 2011” our hero has become almost unrecognizable, physically transformed into a horned figure with a Pinocchio liar’s nose. Did our hero lose his purpose and faith in his original mission? Has he betrayed himself and his culture by transforming into someone unrecognizable? How did he lose sight of whose side he was on in his search to gain meaning in his journey? This series speaks to the struggle of our hero and even further relates to current day issues of immigration. It opens up the question of what it means to leave family and home for hope of a better life and how nuanced that journey can be. These pieces speak to our society more generally as well; they represent how it feels when we are fighting ourselves to get ahead and overcome our own mental and physical barriers. We all have experienced the mental arguing and rethinking that come with huge life choices and know how easy it is to get shrouded in a cloud of fuzzy haze, wondering which way is up, which path is “right”. We can relate to the feeling of losing sense of self through constant rejection and derailment, and we wonder how we would hold up against the consistent disappointment experienced by our hero.
Even though the exhibition is laden with symbols that are heavy with sorrow, it doesn’t end on a down note. Instead, what started out as someone else’s journey became a story about us, our own struggles and what it feels like to flail, fail or overcome. The journey of a boy on a raft ends with us and it becomes our responsibility to choose what comes next.
Elaine Bay is a multimedia artist who works closely with current events to reflect tomorrow and today. Bay received a MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, and BFA at the University of Texas at El Paso with concentrations in Printmaking, Sculpture, and Film/Video. Bay collaborates with various people of different disciplines: music, art, science, and technology from all over the globe. Bay pulls content from historical and current carious source materials including the Internet; weaving the complexities of the world. Bay currently lives in the Boston area.
Raul Gonzalez III (born in El Paso, Texas, lives in Somerville, MA) grew up going back and forth between El Paso and Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. In 2011 Beautiful/Decay in collaboration with Canson awarded him a Wet Paint Grant. In 2009 Gonzalez received an award from the Artadia Foundation for Art and Culture. He was voted Boston’s best visual artist for 2010 by readers of The Boston Phoenix. His work has been exhibited widely in the northeast including The Drawing Center in New York, the Aidekman Gallery at Tufts University in Medford, MA and The Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts in Boston, Ogunquit Museum of American Art as well as on the west coast at SCION Installation, San Francisco Art Institute and Self-Help Graphics in Los Angeles. Gonzalez lives in Somerville, MA, with his lover Elaine Bay and their infant son Raul, IV.
Anna Schindelar is an independent art curator in Boston, MA, where she seeks out and exhibits local emerging artists. By hosting pop up exhibits at locally owned cafes, shops and businesses Anna works to engage the public in art discourse and appreciation.