Talking Surrealism and Symbolism with Rene Gonzalez

By Francesca Wilson

Published 2nd Oct 2019

Rene, thank you so much for taking the time to catch up. I know everyone is so excited to hear more about this work, it is a wonderfully mystifying painting. Can you begin by describing it for me? 

The painting depicts a pink room with lavish Christian European architecture and ornamentation, with columns that spread out onto the roof in Gothic patterns that were meant to mimic trees and leaves. There are red and purple curtains for the windows, again with Gothic arches and some vignettes show stained glass works depicting Christian characters and other decorative elements.

The room is filled with wild tropical vegetation that also reaches and spreads upwards reaching the roof, creating shadows and darkness. There are also for human figures in the space, with naked painted bodies and clad in ritualistic gowns or masks.
I know you take inspiration from various geographical locations, can you tell me where you painted Near an entrance, time presents itself and how it has had an impact on your work?

I painted this work while doing a residency at a place called “Temporal” in Costa Rica, where I was living before moving to London in 2012. I seldom go back, so it’s been a great opportunity to be back and get involved in the Costa Rican art scene that has grown since I left, and it’s a great inspiration for my work that basically merges tropical Latin American Iconography with British and European themes.

These imageries are often in conflict, but they also mirror each other, creating dissonant echoes across time and space.

Your work features traditional Latin American religious figures, can you tell the readers more about these figures, both their outward appearance and their significance in the painting?

The figures in this piece are inspired by the Selk’nam, that were an indigenous people from Argentina and Chile, and they were one of the last native groups in South America to be encountered by migrant ethnic Europeans, mainly British in the late 19th century. They are considered extinct as a tribe. In my painting they are depicted in their ritualistic outfits that were meant to represent forest spirits that young individuals of the tribe had to confront for initiation ceremonies, called the “Hain”, in order to prove their bravery. Their task in this rite of passage was to unmask the spirits; when the boys saw that the spirits were human, they were told a story of world creation related to the sun and moon.

I hesitate to “explain” the meaning of the painting for fear of limiting the viewers’ perception, but I can say that it’s my intention to draw parallels or dissonance between these different elements and that most of my works depict scenes that have a certain uneasy and mysterious fantasy quality.

So there are culturally interesting figures placed in a seemingly incongruous setting, does this painting tell a specific story, or would you describe it more of a merging of ideas?

I would definitely say both. I often consider myself a storyteller before a painter, probably because as an artist, I started creating images to present to others all these stories I find fascinating, but I understand this isn’t necessarily obvious when looking at my canvases, it’s just the process with which I approach creating my paintings.

But it’s also the merging of these two different “ideas” or “worlds”, the Europeans’ meticulous and sophisticated structures that reflect human technology and large complex societies, and then on the other side, the Tropical uncontrolled vegetation of Latin America and the values and beliefs from smaller tribal societies.

My works also make parallels between religions and different historical times, taking from various myths from historical indigenous cultures, such as that of the Selk’nam, where deities and spirits inhabit a space outside of time as humans understand it.

The titles of your work are intriguing; can you tell me a little more about giving the work its name?

The titles of my works, just like the works themselves take inspiration and reference other works from art history, as well as references to contemporary literature and pop culture. In the case of this specific piece, I was trying to suggest a supernatural nature to the scene, where things are not as we usually know them to be and there’s a little reference to Twin Peaks and The Teachings of Don Juan, which are just another layer of atmosphere for the painting.

I have noticed that a distinctive and unusual colour palette is often a significant part of your work, can you explain the colour choices in this painting?

Well, because of the visual themes it makes sense that there would be a lot of green in my work, as it’s the most obvious way to depict flora. And, not that it’s necessarily relevant, but pink might be one of my favourite colours to paint, but I was just trying to intuitively create and appealing composition that fitted the narrative.

In retrospective, I often refer to my art as a modern fairy tale, like a seductive dreamworld where things are mysterious and slightly ambiguous or scary, so pink and green seem appropriate to me. It is interesting to consider how these otherworldly images come to you.

Did you have a clear image of the finished painting in your mind when you began painting, or does it develop through the process?

It’s mostly planned from the start with the sketch having most elements that will be painted, but the works always end up developing through the process in an organic way wherever it might seem necessary.

Which other works in The Crossover have caught your attention?

I am a huge fan of Sooyoung Chung, Rose Electra Harris and Dominic Beattie, and I absolutely love their works in The Crossover, they’re great examples of why audiences resonate so well to their pieces. I’m so excited to be next to them for this project.

Finally, how can our readers see more of your work and keep up to date with your projects?

I think Instagram account, @rene_thatpainterguy is the best way to keep up with me and see the projects I’m participating in. I love interacting with my audience and it’s a very helpful platform to show my art.

Rene Gonzalez - thank you very much!

Rene Gonzalez is including Lot 26, Near an entrance, time presents itself in The Crossover on 12 October.