Ashland Art Center is holding its first International Workshop with Mexican artist Efren Gonzalez in September. Longtime Art Center supporter and artist Elaine Frenett met Efren in Ajijic, Mexico, a fishing village on Lake Chapala not far from Guadalajara, Discovering him at his Efren Gonzalez Cultural center, where he has a gallery, frame shop and sells art supplies, she found he also has a classroom where he teaches adults and children in his ceramics studio. Elaine was blown away by his oil paintings, painted murals and his new technique of creating murals from fired clay. After much planning, AAC has arranged from Efren’s mid-September arrival; his introduction to Southern Oregon will begin with a presentation of his work, Mexican art and history at a free potluck on Friday September 23. (Seating is limited to 30 – please contact Sarah F Burns at sarahfburnsgmailcom or call 541.621.7767 to reserve your seat!)
The primary workshop focuses on his clay mural technique. These clay murals were inspired by ancient Mayan traditions, although the method is Efren’s own innovation. The finished murals measure about 8 feet high and as much as 18 feet wide and are made in sections, then fires and assembled at the installation site. The original subject matter was Mayan motifs, but Efren soon expanded to contemporary themes including stories of Mexico’s independence from Spain, using historical figures and symbols sculpted together to create a rich piece of art. Even the clay he uses has important artistic significance for him “Almost every culture around the world started using clay for their domestic needs, and for many of them it became a form of art.”
“For me, being Mexican, clay is something I’m very proud of, since it is presented in every one of the cultures developed in pre-Hispanic times. In a way, I am bringing the art of Mexico from ancient times to the present day.” Although Efren began creating clay murals recently, he has received private commission, won first prize in a mural competition, and has been commissioned by the City of Chapala for an official project. Students at Ashland Art Center will have an opportunity to create smaller clay murals in his three day Clay Mural Workshop. Find more information about the workshop here, or download the registration form here.
About Efren Gonzalez
Born on June 1, 1972, this 29 year-old impassioned local talent, stands out even in the pantheon of Lakeside greats. His paintings are intensely alive – full of color, meaning and insights into Mexico.
“Art started with a pencil,” Efren says, “almost as soon as I could hold it,” and despite a few short detours, the journey to becoming a “working” artist began early. Efren Gonzalez grew up in Ajijic, winning local and regional drawing competitions as early as primary school. Although he preferred Art to Math and Chemistry in high school, he still didn’t know that one day it would be his career. Sometimes, he still lacks confidence, he admits.
After high school, Efren started out studying Architecture and then Plastic Arts, but shortly found that he hadn’t the patience for either. What career would suit him best? He had worked in restaurants, fabricas, and as a translator, but only to gain his daily bread, his sueldo, drawing and painting all the while, as a function of his being.
Still undecided as to what to do, Efren was offered a grant to study Art at a small college in Maryland. He made the most of the opportunity. More than anything he learned there, he was enriched by seeing in person, great works he had only admired in books. One year later, he returned to Ajijic and took up his brush.
He soon discovered that being a “working” artist meant being a “selling” artist, and for that, your work must be shown. He dutifully took his paintings to CABA, an artist co-op, which had recently opened at Lakeside to see if they would show it. It was there that Efren met his wife, Reina Galindo, who had the unpleasant task of telling the young man every Sunday, that again, his works had not been accepted for exhibition.
“She rejected me every week,” he says smiling, “and I fell in love with her, anyway.”
Married, and with his first child on the way, Efren had to make some responsible choices. He was referred to designer Billy Moon, who needed drawings for a book to be published. Efren went to Moon’s gallery to apply for the job, and listened to the requirements. When Mr. Moon asked what Efren wanted to be paid for the work Efren said, “Five Hundred Dollars.”
The sputtering Moon asked him, “What? Do you think I’m made of money?”
Efren replied, “I will bring you the drawing, if you like it you will pay me $500, if you don’t, nothing.”
A few days later he returned. He presented the drawing to Moon, who reached into his pocket and paid the artist on the spot. Then followed a commission for more drawings, and after that, a position in the design department. Efren worked for Billy Moon and his sueldo, and kept his young family going on the secure wages for nearly a year.
Realizing he would never get further ahead working for someone else, he confided to his wife that he wanted to make their living from his art. Would she let him try?
Reina gave her consent, but for the first three months Efren painfully remembers he was sometimes unable to afford buying milk for them. He says that all of the obstacles have made him more resilient though, more dedicated to his Art. He sold canvases in the plaza, on the street, at small exhibitions in hotels and restaurants. Then he received a commission to paint a mural for a woman on the condition that he accepted payment in floor tile. “These,” he says, pointing to the flooring in the room where we are sitting, “At the time, I didn’t even own a piece of land, but I took the job.”
Although he received only floor tiles and no further work from the person who commissioned it, someone who saw the mural was interested enough to track him down. Mal Baxter, an interior designer at Classic Design, became an enthusiastic source of reference for the young painter.
Leaving the hardships of the days when he peddled his work himself, Efren is now sought after by galleries here and in Puerto Vallarta. He is currently working on a mural inspired by the book, “Azteca,” by Gary Jennings, which deals with the conquest of what is now Mexico by Spain. The mural, located at Escuela Saul Rodiles on Hidalgo in Ajijic, was unveiled on September 21, 2001, with members of the author’s family in attendance.
With continued exposure, word of mouth, and the support of a growing number of admirers, Efren Gonzalez is now a successful “working” artist, and will be, for as long as he cares to paint. He, Reina and their two children, Leonardo and Paula Regina live in Ajijic, in the house they are building from his Art. See more of the artist and his work at his website, http://www.efrengonzalez.com.mx/
In addition to his clay mural workshop, Efren will facilitate an oil painting workshop September 27 & 28. This is the perfect opportunity for those interested in trying the medium without the expense of investing in a full line of oil, as Gonzalez will provide the paint. His style is vibrant, colorful, expressive and intense, mixing realist and impressionist techniques to create cheerful scenes inspired by the Mexican landscape, people and objects.
Contact Sarah Burns for more information and to register: sarahfburnsgmailcom or call 541.621.7767.
This article’s content was sourced from the Ashland Art Center’s current newsletter and an article by Darryl Tenenbaum at the MexConnect website, graciously provided by Elaine Frenett. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to help promote Efren, his work and workshops!