Brenda Gonzalez – Art and Cake

Photo of artist May 2023
Photo Credit: Patricia Gonzalez

What does a day in your art practice look like?
Currently, my art practice is in a state of transition as I end my residency at Arts at Blue Roof and work on reorganizing all my tools and materials back in my studio shed at home. During my residency at Arts at Blue Roof, a day in my art practice looked like waking up at 6 AM to get ready for the day, taking the bus to the Blue Roof Studios building in South LA, and upon getting there writing my goals for the day in my planner. Those goals could be “clean the studio”, “glue the wooden armature together”, “organize my fabrics by color”, “sew and stuff fabric into forms”, etc. I try to complete as many of these goals as I can or move them to the next day. At the end of the studio day, I try to do computer things like update my Instagram or draft parts of my newsletter so that I can share updates about my studio practice.

What would life be like without art?
I think I would take many things for granted without art. My art is about appreciating the mundane objects all around me. I’m constantly looking for beauty even in the imperfections of the world around me. Making art, especially sculpture, has taught me that it’s important to care about details but equally as important to take a step back (often literally) to see things in front of me and around me holistically. Art has helped me develop this way of thinking that has become part of who I am. Without art, I suspect, I would be a less considerate person.

From the Ground Up
63” x 33” x 60 ¼”
Materials: Pressed back oak chair, assorted fabrics, cyanotypes on paper and on cotton fabric, wood, microfiber rug, shag rug, brass doorknob, clothes hangers, placemats, flocking, glass mosaic tiles
Notes: Made during “A Room of One’s Own” residency at Arts at Blue Roof
Photo Credit: Brenda Gonzalez

What is the hardest part of creating your art?
The hardest part of creating my art is dealing with my tendency to overthink and create mental hurdles for myself. I sometimes feel as if I can’t start making anything unless certain conditions are met. These conditions could be things like having a studio space, cleaning my studio space, having a specific tool, or learning a building or sewing technique thoroughly enough to be competent enough to employ it in my work. I can get in my own way when it comes to just getting started because even though I know it’s impossible, I often feel like conditions have to be perfect in order for me to start making.

What inspires you?
Right now, I’m inspired by the architecture and objects of my home in East LA. I am drawn to the fabrics and furniture that make up my home and similar homes in the area. Homes that are low-income households like the one I grew up in are the main inspiration behind my work. Lately, I have incorporated photographic imagery of my house, such as the cracks in the pavement, flowers growing wildly, and loquats hanging from the trees, into my work. I’m inspired by nature and by small imperfect moments in my surroundings that serve as evidence of these objects around me being lived with.

Brenda’s studio during her time as the Spring 2023 Artist-In-Residence for the “A Room of One’s Own” Residency at Arts at Blue Roof.
Photo Credit: Brenda Gonzalez

What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to not be afraid to ask for as much help as I think I need, especially when I want to learn a skill or use the resources around me better. I would also tell my younger self that the best way to get over anxiety about what the future may hold is to face it more directly. I should do the things that intimidate me, like exercise regularly or network, in small doses so that I can get used to them in a way that isn’t overwhelming. Lastly, I would tell myself that making time each day to plan out my day is the best way to not feel lost and instead feel productive, even if the tasks I accomplish are small.

What is the best advice you’ve been given?
Since we’re discussing art, I can’t help but think about the pieces of advice that come to mind almost every time I’m in the studio. The first is from my art professor at Dartmouth, Brenda Garand, who pointed out to me that I don’t always have to keep adding new elements to a sculpture or a piece, I can take away. I can edit. That realization was so important to my development as an artist. In graduate school, Professor Lucy Puls told me that I needed to start thinking about how I could make sculptures without the resources of an art program like a woodshop and welding shop. Until that point, I had never considered how I would construct my art after graduate school and this advice really shifted the way I thought about building a sculpture and being resourceful. Lastly, I was lucky enough to get a studio visit from Leonardo Drew during my 2nd year at UC Davis and he helped me realize that I don’t always have to start a sculpture from scratch. I can use parts of old sculptures to create new works that still hold some of the energy from the previous works. Doing so has allowed me to work faster and generate more interesting work.

Swoop Up (detail)
17” x 16” x 15”
Materials: plastic hangers, assorted fabric, grommets, cabinet hinges, cyanotype prints on cotton, ceramic and glass mosaic tiles, hardware cloth.
Notes: Made during “A Room of One’s Own” residency at Arts at Blue Roof
Photo Credit: Brenda Gonzalez

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
I make sure that I take enough time away from the studio to enjoy other activities like exercise, watching K-dramas, listening to podcasts, spending time with family, doing DIY projects at home, etc. I like making sculptures, prints, and animations, but I want to have time to activate different parts of my brain. I can’t help but think, even as I do these other activities, about my artwork. Seeing colorful K-pop music videos, watching the storylines of telenovelas and anime play out, or swinging a racket playing tennis occasionally, despite being so different from what I do in the studio, influence my work, and reenergize me. When I’m back in the studio I feel like I can devote more energy and focus to making work for a designated amount of time.

How has personal experience influenced your creativity?
My creativity is directly derived from my personal experience. My sculptures all explore my upbringing and the mundane objects that make up my idea of home. As my house changes through some recent renovations, I wonder how these changes could be reflected in my work. A few months ago, a big tree branch broke off from a tree at home due to some strong winds and I used that branch to make cyanotypes on fabric that I included in a piece called From the Ground Up for my exhibition Creature Comforts at Arts at Blue Roof. Just two weeks ago, my family replaced some old and rusty iron handrails from our front porch and I stored them away like a squirrel. I’m eager to see how those handrails become part of future sculptural works!

Photo of Brenda in the Artist-in-Residence studio at Arts at Blue Roof in April 2023.
Photo Credit: Zeina Baltagi

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in your field?
Something I keep realizing as I make more work is the importance of documentation. Photograph your work well (detail shots, full shots) and create a list on Google Docs, Word, or whatever platform you prefer, to document the dimensions, materials, year, special notes about the piece, etc. It will make applying to residencies and art programs so much easier (you just have to copy and paste the information) and it will help you remember how your work has progressed in the future, especially if the work is ephemeral or you cannot keep your work around you.

How do you make the leap from an idea in your head to the action you produce?
My sculptures often start out as forms inspired by gestures. I sketch the shape of a form to figure out how to create an armature. Starting the armatures always takes me a while to figure out. I start constructing and then gravity alters the balance, so I often have to reconfigure the armature until I make a stable sculpture. At the same time, I layout materials that I plan on placing on top of the armature, often fabrics and scraps of furniture, on the floor or on the wall to figure out what visual and textural relationships they have with each other. I routinely walk back and forth around my sculptures in order to achieve the flow of materials that I want. There are moments when I focus intensely on minute details, and others when I allow myself to sculpt more loosely.
When it comes to stop-motion animation, I have a setting and an object I want to move in mind, and without much planning, I play with an app called Stop Motion Studio on my phone that is mounted to a small tripod and click away with a Bluetooth remote. The objects I animate can be sculptures, parts of sculptures, or found objects with no alterations (like rocks, water hoses, or chairs). I play around with the motions of the objects I record and with the frame rate and save the clips. I then compile the clips on Premiere Pro to create longer video works.

30”x 12” x 15”
Materials: brass doorknob, ceiling fan blades, seat cushion, aluminum wire, hardware cloth, assorted fabric, plastic basket, glass mosaic tiles
Notes: Made during “A Room of One’s Own” residency at Arts at Blue Roof
Photo Credit: Brenda Gonzalez