INSIDE THE ARTIST’S STUDIO A slight, soft-spoken man in a black T-shirt, dark jeans and gray sneakers, Gonzalez is perhaps more at home among these curiosities than anywhere else. “I’ve got a great eye for decay,” he says, scanning his treasures. “The more dilapidated something is, the more attracted I am to it.” Only in Binghamton
Binghamton University • BINGHAMTON RESEARCH • Winter 2014
Gonzalez, a prolific sculptor and recipient of the 2013 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities, has had solo exhibitions at world-class museums such as the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park near Boston. He has mounted shows at the Spoleto Festival, the Purchase Biennial and in places as far away as Peru and Germany. But his roots bind him to Binghamton, where Gonzalez grew up a bit of a street kid in the 1950s and ’60s.
! Ronald Gonzalez, who has exhibited his work at world-class museums, creates sculptures that challenge viewers to reconsider everyday objects and question today’s slick, digitized culture.
For a 360-degree view inside Ronald Gonzalez’s Binghamton studio, visit go.binghamton.edu/gonzalez.
His mother was religious; his father just the opposite. He was an altar boy who knew how to shoplift. In fact, Gonzalez says, the major dichotomies in his life can all be traced back to his childhood. Contrasts of sex and guilt, rich and poor, God and atheist, imagination and reality, life and death shaped his emotional and psychological outlook. “I am definitely a TV and telephone kid from the 1950s,” he says. “I am a product of post-World War II existential Binghamton and the Atomic Age.” Gonzalez was awakened to art through religious statuary stored in the basement of the local church, where he would pretend to be a sculptor. He was intrigued by the idea that someone could use his imagination to manipulate the human form. Gonzalez went to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City with his mother when he was 12. He got lost and recalls wandering through the exhibits until he came to Michelangelo’s
Pietà, which was there on loan from the Vatican. Gonzalez couldn’t see over the people crowding around it, but remembers feeling “a sense of reverence and awe” among the onlookers. That moment and one other, a few years later, sparked something inside Gonzalez. When he was in his teens, he saw pictures of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker. His first thought was of the sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, which sometimes featured the main character striking that classic pose. But Gonzalez’s second thought (in a moment of boredom) was to look for art books at the library. He managed to locate a book about Rodin and another about Vincent van Gogh. “I became fascinated with the presence and power of the swirling sea of figures in Rodin’s The Gates of Hell,” Gonzalez says. “I went out and bought a bag of clay that day. I brought it into my bedroom and started making things. I’ve never really stopped.” It was the late 1960s, but the art books he remembers finding in the public library highlighted figurative sculpture from the 1940s and ’50s. He learned about French sculptor Germaine Richier, Alberto Giacometti and Pablo Picasso, artists often concerned with themes of isolation
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