Saturday, December 02, 2017

Guest Columnist Antonio SolisGomez Interviews Artist George Peñaloza

Tucson Artist George Peñaloza
Antonio SolisGomez

Night is gaining as I drive through an older part of Tucson where old adobe building are occupied by law firms, ad agencies, restaurants and the like and are scattered among the a few buildings that still retain their original intent as homes. It is a section of the city’s downtown area where the Tucson Museum of Art is located and on the same property a small building occupied by The Romero House Potters, where I find George, working clay, as he does almost every day, his passion difficult to put aside even as night falls. He’s relaxed though as he works and it’s easy to perceive that he’s a quiet thoughtful person.

“What are you working on George,” I ask.

“Oh it’s a portion of a piece I call Queen Elizabeth.”

He holds the arm of an octopus, it’s suction cups clearly visible, behind it a creature holds on with two hands as if trying to do a chin up for a gym class.

Although it’s difficult to categorize George’s work, it is very easy to appreciate and enjoy his surrealistic juxtaposing of elements that most people would not consider belonging together in a work of art. But George sees it as quite natural and obvious that what he creates could not come in any other way.

George was born in Los Angeles but his mom and aunt moved to Nogales Arizona when he was a year old and was raised there until they moved to Tucson when he was fifteen. He finished High School and attended Pima Community College, where he began to concentrate on clay sculptures.

“So what inspires you George, where do these ideas come from?”

He‘s a bit taken back by the questions and I can see that he’s struggling to articulate something that would make sense to me because to him it is evident by looking at any of his pieces what is there.

“I mean do you start off with an idea of what a piece is going to be,” I add.

“Everything around me inspires me,” he finally answers. “I do start off with an idea but it changes as I work. For example the piece I call Voyage to Independence was inspired by my visit to Philadelphia, which is my favorite city because of the energy that I felt there. But I begin to add things that come to my head. And it evolves.”

“So what about this one that shows something that looks like a tornado,” I ask.

“I call that one ‘Twisted not Stirred’, showing the Wizard of Oz and how popular culture is like a tornado that takes everyone,” he responds.

“I notice too,” I say, “that there is a whimsical quality to your work. Is this intentional or something that sneaks up on you for instance the way you have Dorothy in the tornado with her red shoes visible.”

“No, no I try to be very positive to make people feel that my art is fun and to be enjoyed but I also want people to learn something like for instance in a piece that I call ‘Don’t be Crude’ that shows the Earth threatened by pollution.”

In that piece it is evident that George uses metaphor and symbolism to enhance his message but they are subtle and the viewer has to employ intelligence and imagination to fully appreciate what the piece is communicating. For example the use of the word crude that refers to oil, the horses of the apocalypse, the bird holding the Earth in its beak, an oil derrick and the rings of Saturn showing the interconnectedness of Earth to the rest of the universe. Heady Stuff, I think but, but fun .Que no?

George has had some recognition, has exhibited at the Tucson Museum of Art, The Obsidian Gallery, The Herberger Theater Center and has been a finalist four times of the NICHE Magazine Awards. But like many artists he has to work in order to make ends meet, in his case it’s as a server at a local restaurant.

“Tell me George what does the future hold for you?”

He takes his time thinking before saying, “As I’ve gotten older I’m more conscience of my art and what I’m doing. I’m more aware generally.”

Just before I take leave he shows me a piece that is near completion that he calls Gay Inspiration depicting icons of Gay culture such as Liberace, the Golden Girls, Samantha from Bewitched and others. It’s one of several that are works in progress, his fertile mind able to multi-task.

George can be reached via his email

1 comment:

Unknown said...

When we visit Tucson in March (each year) I hope to be able to find some of this fine art. What great imagination.