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Meet Gabby Gonzales

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gabby Gonzales.

Gabby, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I have always been someone with a desire to make images. I’ve loved to draw since before I can remember and it remains a crucial part of my practice today. I did all the things a young budding artist did in her youth, took the art classes, went to the museums, had all art electives in high school, and ultimately went to art school for college. I graduated with a degree in illustration in 2012. Pretty typical. But in my younger years I never really felt like much of an ARTIST if you know what I mean. I had a talent for drawing and it was just what I did. I struggled with the more existential questions of what made a true artist, what it meant to BE one, and what it took to really live as an artist. I struggled with these questions until well after college. I saw artists out in the world and they seemed so magnanimous, like their desire and passion was something they greatly desired to share with others and that unless you had this larger than life personality and practice that no one was going to look or care. So my true art journey didn’t start until two years out of college when I got a job at my local art store. It was like college 2.0 minus all of the classes and structure but I was still learning a ton.

It was here that I interacted with many different sorts of artists every single day. From customers to my coworkers, I was constantly presented with different types of people making art in any way they knew how. I was seeing for the first time that there was no one way to do it and you can really do it any way you want while still being true to you. I feel like a lot of people fresh out of art school have these ideas of what they should be doing. I thought I should be doing editorial illustration or working as some junior designer or something like that, and those are all fine options but never really peaked my interest. It was after a few years of these interactions at the art store that I decided I was going to use my skills in a new way I never had before, for painting. I let go of what I thought I should be doing and just started doing whatever I wanted.

I never really painted in school and the thought of sitting in front of a canvas and rendering a full image seemed daunting at first so me and a few of my friends decided instead of starting small we were going to start BIG. We got our hands on some spray paint and some free wall space in a backyard and made a mess. Our first attempts weren’t great but I knew I was on to something and was obsessed. I kept spray painting and later muraling for the next four years on and off. After a while of this, I transitioned into also doing work on canvas and for gallery and began developing my studio practice which remains in development and ever changing to this day. As time has moved on and I got a full-time job working as a painting instructor and as spray paint became more expensive my painting practice pivoted to working more on canvas and became more technical, consistent, and fully conceptualizes and that leads us to where I am today.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Is the road to building a life around art ever smooth? I still struggle with what it means to be an artist but I think that doubt lives in a lot of us especially when times are hard. The urge to give it all up when you are broke and living to paycheck is strong. When you feel like you make images that maybe only resonate with a small number of people you begin to think what’s the point? This could just be a hobby if no one cares? But then life can also just come out of nowhere and derail you and your whole practice for a long period of time. In 2016 I was struggling with an autoimmune disorder that I’ve had since high school. I was having a bad health issues and it was preventing me from having the physical and mental strength to continue muraling at all and sunk me into a deep depression that also affected my desire to create any art even on a small scale. I had felt for so long that I had so much energy and stamina and excitement for my art that to have that greatly reduced and almost taken away from me because my body betrayed me, because I was sick, felt like almost too much to recover from.

But the thing about all setbacks and anxieties is usually you do recover from them. With support from those around you and knowing that taking some time off to deal with whatever life is throwing at you, you can get back to where you were. Art doesn’t just end if you take six months to a year off, it will still be there in you and thats something I had to discover and was glad to realize it when I did. When my health ultimately rebounded, I made some of my best paintings and had some of my most significant shows and I felt like my message and my concepts were richer than ever. The energy surrounding my practice changed a lot, I matured and was more serious about what I wanted to do. Once I found that I still wanted to make art after a hard challenge and long break is when I knew more than ever that I was an artist and I had what it took to live this life.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
My day to day mostly involves fine art drawing and painting. My work has gone through several evolutions since I began painting in 2013. For a few years, I was most known for my whacky and colorful mural projects. These used a lot of fun characters, imagery, and color to create very vibrant works. It was fun and loud and I spray painted under the street art name GIRLBARF. In the last 18 months that art identity has been laid to rest and the most defining feature of my work now is the heavy LGBTQ themes it focuses on. My most recent works focus mostly on what it is like to exist as a queer woman in today’s world. My current work can be a bit melancholy and look at subjects like longing and desire and the angst that can revolve around these feelings. But they also consider the sapphic beauty and decadence and love that can come from intimate female relationships.

When you look at my work it can seem almost episodic as it is heavy in symbolism and uses both inanimates still life imagery and fragmented figurative parts to tell the whole story in a landscape sort of style with various details looking closer into the intimate moments of this experience. There are many parts of a story usually being told within one image. This work that I am doing is very personally important to me and my perspective on the life I live but I also think gives a glimpse of a way of life that more than a few women experience but is rarely portrayed in art spaces. Female gaze, sexuality, and the depth of emotions we experience while loving each other are the things I am most interested in right now and I am proud to share this very vulnerable and earnest part of a queer experience through art.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I don’t really believe in “luck” per se. I mean of course some times it is lucky when two people are in the same space at the same time that can meet and influence each other or the fact the some circumstances can line up in a certain way and propel you forward. But I don’t really believe that these are even so much luck. Work and action creates momentum that can sure feel like luck but who made that happen? The individual’s conscious efforts. I see a lot of people who wish they could get lucky, get their big break, have a random stroke of good fortune change their life but that doesn’t happen with just wishing.

Luck is just the product of sitting in the studio and making the work. It’s effort it takes to promote yourself on the internet, to go to shows and meet other artists and gallery owners, to respond to email inquiries, to maintain both professional contacts and friendships. It is the conscious momentum of it all and it is choice, not luck. I guess the luck part of it could be the quality of the people you meet along the way. In the ways I feel most lucky is in finding the people who really take the time to see my work and support me as an individual maker and also choose include me in their projects. That force of fiercely intelligent and driven makers I have in my life and the energy and opportunity we all bring to each other as a product of our hard work is something I am a lucky to have and am forever grateful for. That’s the lucky part.

What were you like growing up? Personality wise, interest wise, etc.
You wouldn’t know it now but as a kid, I was the quiet and shy type. I found interacting my peers to be overwhelming sometimes and I learned escaping to my creative inner world was very comforting. I started making art at a very young age and I’ve been interested in making pictures basically my whole life. I was that kid at 3 or 4 years old that always had that jumbo box of crayons out drawing something, or drawing on paper placemats at restaurants, and embellishing every notebook, binder, or pair of shoes with my own mark. I loved cartoons and movies and spent a lot time drawing some of my favorite characters from shows like Jem and the Holograms and Pokemon.

I liked storytelling and making comic books and really any form of making where I could hold the end product and proudly show it to my parents. I was an only child so the world of make-believe was where I had some of funniest times and helped me develop my creative side early. Despite being a little introvert, I also loved music and being outside. I played a number of team sports as one does growing up in LA, namely AYSO soccer and softball, I was a Girl Scout, and I learned to sing and play music as a tween in junior high. These other activities carried me through high school where I played sports and in my schools jazz band but outside of that I was still drawing and making art of some sort every day.

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