Interview: Artist Jenri Gonzalez

Before introducing you to the incredible artist that I was fortunate enough to interview this past week I want to make a personal statement. The reason I have been remiss in my writing this year is because I have had quite a few drastic changes in my life. I graduated Magna Cum Laude from Flagler College in St. Augustine Florida in the Spring and then I moved to Long Island to intern at Nordstrom where I currently work full time. Never-the-less despite all the tumultuous events of 2015 thus far one aspect that has remained completely the same in my life is my ardent love for finding new art. So without further ado, let me introduce a recent new friend of mine, artist Jenri Gonzalez.

Jenri is a 26 year old New York native who works primarily with acrylics, oils and pastels. His work is very self-reflective in nature and he tends to employ his own visage in his work, making each piece seem like a screenshot of his everyday life and inspirations. I was fortunate enough to convince Jenri to talk with me about his magnificent work and what inspires him to create it:

Me: What drives you? What made you want to be an artist?

Jenri: Life, Life drives me I’ve lived so much of it and experienced it that Life is My masterpiece.

M: What is the process behind each piece? What goes into creating one?

J: Well recently my works have become premonitions I paint what I dream or how I feel so I always have paints and canvases everything I do is spontaneous. I always felt that being in the moment is better then planning it out with art. Capture the moment, feel it and truly embrace it.

M: What is your biggest inpiration for your work?

J: My biggest inspiration is what I’ve seen and felt in my life. I always paint what I feel or what I have envisioned.

M: Who are some of your favorite artists and how do they inspire your work (if at all)?

J: My favorite artists are Frida Kahlo and Vincent Van Gogh. they Lived such painful lives but put what they felt on canvas and created some of the most memorable and hauntingly beautiful images in art history. A little bit of anime Pokemon and Tenchi Muyo have had some influence on me, I’ve always appreciated the style and colors when I watched them growing up. Cartoonist David Gonzales, he’s an inspiration to me just seeing how far he has come and being proud of who you are and where you come from, and turning it into something positive. I’m a big fan and somewhere in my draws are a couple of the homies. I’ve also always looked up to Selena Quntanilla I listen to her songs when I paint. She worked so hard and has opened the doors for us Latinos in the music industry so I have to give her a shout out just because I look up to her for her work ethic and for making her dreams come true.

M: A lot of your work (like Selfish, Remember Me, The Broken Man) seems to be tragic and introspective in nature, can you explain why this seems to be the case?

J: Selfish is about fighting myself, I am my best friend but I am also My own worst enemy. So with me it’s a constant struggle, I’ve been taught that being selfish is a bad thing but being a doormat is something undesirable so finding a balance is something that I struggled to work on in my past. The broken man is the story of the bonding with me and a bird I found on the street, I’ve always associated myself and identified myself with birds. They are the symbol of freedom, I told everyone that if I couldn’t be an artist then I wanted to be a bird. I would always look outside at them when I was in school and for a long time I envied their freedom. Anyway going back to the broken man, I had just come out of a really bad time in my life, poor choices and lack of good friends destroyed me on the inside and for a long time I felt shattered so finding this bird on the street with a broken wing was a sign from the universe. I took him home with me I cleaned him up and helped him heal. One day I looked at him and really looked at him and stared into his eyes and In that moment I understood him and how him and I both were feeling, and then the broken man was born out of that experience. Remember me comes from a vision I had where I began to fade away into the sky and I saw these beautiful birds fly with me and from what I could remember I was saying remember me, so that was the birth of “remember me”.

M: Each piece looks like it could be a scene from a larger narrative or epic, do you create a specific backstory for each work or is it just coincidence?

J: Each work is a moment in my life or a vision I have seen, the work that I have been putting out is my autobiography, sometimes I’m bad with words so I paint what I feel and see.

M: You have had a couple of solo exhibitions and 23 group shows.  Do you have any upcoming events or appearances you would like to talk about?

J: I’m currently working on new solo show and based on what my fans like on my page I will make more prints from this show. It’s great interacting with my fans since I have favorites, but my fans love other pieces and I never thought that they would be good enough just because sometimes I do ” joke art” which is like really simple work it’s a moment in my head. Like “sweet victory” I never thought it would catch on but it did so I’ve been selling more of that print. My website and fan page will announce anything upcoming so subscribe, press the like button, or press follow for anything new.

M: Finally, are you working on anything new that we can look forward to?

J: Actually yes, my new series is about starting over, like a rebirth and entering a new world. I’ve been dreaming a lot more, and my dreams have become very vivid. I dream of being in this forest that exists inside of a vagina, and it’s a new feeling, a feeling of peace. There’s a lot more nudity so I’m not too sure how much I can get away with on social media with showing it to you guys, but I’m going to give you a sneak peak at the new material.

After the Rain

“After the Rain” from Jenri’s new collection

In Utero

“In Utero” another new piece

I would like to sincerely thank Jenri for his time and for allowing me to preview some of his new work for my blog. Check out more of Jenri’s work below and on his website: http://jenrigonzalez.com for other works mentioned in this post i.e. “The Broken Man”

Interview: Photographer Alejandro Gonzalez

Alejandro (Alec) Gonzalez is a young and very talented photographer whose work has been featured prominently all over the internet. Born in Oaxaca, Mexico but now stationed in Bellflower, California Alejandro is the oldest of two children and at 21 has already accomplished a lot of incredible goals that any artist would envy. From having one of his photographs be selected for the cover of a Buzzfeed article, to being featured as the cover artist for The Flagler Review literary magazine, and also landing on Tumblr’s radar page and their “Photographer Spotlight” multiple times Alejandro has had mass exposure for his work. I had a lovely chat with Alejandro through emailing back and forth and he graciously agreed to this interview so without further ado, here is my personal interview with the amazing Alejandro Gonzalez.

Josh: Could you tell me what first inspired you to start photography?
Alejandro: I took Photography fundamentals in my junior year of high school and I took the year class in my senior year. The only reason I took photography was because I wanted to walk around campus with a camera and take pictures. During my senior year I had a friend named Vincent and we would take pictures every single day. Back in high school I was more of a freelance photographer and Vincent would model for me. I was in love with Vincent and one day he just passed away, literally. One day we were hanging out and the next day I received a phone call that he was in the hospital. He had a brain aneurysm and a vein popped in his brain while he was in the gym and never woke up after that. I’m not happy that he died, but I’m glad he didn’t suffer. After his death I stopped photographing for 8 months and after a long break I decided to start a 365 project. I started my project on April 2013, but that only lasted 14 days so I started again in May and from there I just kept going. I started a 365 project because I needed to keep myself occupied and fill the void that Vincent left. Once I overcame his death I decided to keep photographing because I really wanted to improve and accomplish the same things photographers my age were accomplishing.

J: Your photography is very dark and almost moody. What goes through your mind when you create a picture, and what do you hope to convey with your photographs?
A: I try to give my photos a dark feel to them. I usually sketch my photos before I start photographing them, so the only thing that goes through my mind is the concept that I’ve sketched because it’s very important to me that my final image looks like the concept I sketched. I want to convey whatever it is that I’m going through. I’m sure I’m not the only person who experiences heartbreak, depression, and happiness so I photograph according to what I’m going through. I try to express how I feel through my photography and hope that people will connect with my work in some way. My 365 project was kind of all over the place because sometimes I felt happy and sometimes I felt sad. This year will be different and I can’t wait to share my new work.

J: Would you consider changing your style or do you simply plan on molding it further?

A: I don’t plan on changing my style I just plan on improving it. I believe I have a creative mind and now that I’m regaining my confidence I plan on creating some pretty cool photos. I love getting creative and building/buying props and conceptual photography has allowed me to combine all of those things in one. However, I have been looking at portraiture photography so maybe I’ll give that a try
J: Almost all of your photographs feature you exclusively as the central figure. Is there any specific reason for that?
A: I guess I’m a bit of a narcissist and I’m not ashamed of it. I love myself and I feel comfortable in my own skin to take self-portraits and post them for everyone to see. The reason I’m the central figure is because I have no one else to model for me. When I first started my 365 project some of my friends would model for me, but now they’re doing their own thing so I had to learn how to take self-portraits. I had to learn how to be independent and I think it’s better this way because no model can ever portray the feeling I’m trying to convey. My work becomes even more personal when I’m my own model and I love that.
J: What is your editing process like and what is your preferred mode of taking your pictures? i.e. what kind of camera or lighting do you prefer?

A: My uncle bought me a Cannon Rebel T3i as an early high school graduation gift so that’s the only camera I’ve ever used. It’s a pretty good beginner camera and I’ve managed to create all my work with it. Maybe I’ll upgrade next year, but for now I have to work with what I have and so far I think I’m doing alright. The only thing I have upgraded are my lens, I went from a kit lens to a Canon 50mm 1.4 lens. There’s nothing more that I love than photographing on location with natural light. Natural light just makes everything look more beautiful and natural, but I also use studio lights every now and then. Before I start editing I make sure I have some snacks, then I blast my music and get lost editing. I don’t like to be bothered while I’m editing because I like to focus on bringing my sketch to life. Editing is by far my favorite part of creating new work, sometimes I even enjoy it more than photographing. I have an old computer so editing usually takes longer than it should, but every photo usually takes anywhere between 4 – 7 hours (sometimes more.) When I was working on my 365 project I would photograph, edit, and post the photo on the same day and I usually wasn’t satisfied with the colors the next day. Now I post my work a day after I’m done editing it because I like to give my vision a break and make sure that I’m satisfied with the colors. It’s sort of like typing a 5 page essay, I mean, I wouldn’t turn in an essay I typed the same day because it would be filled with misspelled words and other mistakes. I need time to proofread it and I apply the same rule to my finished work.
J: You have been featured prominently on Tumblr’s radar and home pages. Does the exposure put more pressure on you to deliver photographs more frequently or at a higher quality?

A: I have actually been featured 5 times on Tumblr radar. I literally went to sleep with 270 followers and woke up with over 1,500 followers the first time I got featured. When I woke up I couldn’t believe it, I thought my phone was acting up so I decided to check my computer and after I confirmed it I went crazy. I was on photo 70 when I got featured so it added a lot of pressure on me. I started my 365 project to keep myself occupied each day, but when I got featured I felt the need to improve because now I had an audience. Then I got featured again, and again, and again. I had reached over 11,000 followers and I wasn’t even close to finishing my 365 project. Then Tumblr added me to their “Photographer Spotlight” page so I got exposed even more and I started gaining new followers daily. Other photographers usually get noticed when they complete their 365 project, but getting noticed while I was still working on mine added so much pressure on me. Having that many followers sort of destroyed me and I started to look at my photography in a negative way. I felt like I wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t satisfied with the daily photos I was creating. I lost my confidence because I knew people expected more from me and I felt like I wasn’t delivering. The whole point of a 365 project is to improve daily and to have fun doing it, but I turned it into a competition with myself. I later realized that I was destroying myself and I decided I shouldn’t be taking my project so serious. It’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay to make crappy work because that’s the only way any artist will improve. I started a 365 project because I needed to keep myself occupied and fill the void that Vincent left, and when I was half way through my project I realized I had accomplished what I wanted in the beginning. I was a mess before my project, but creating daily work really helped me heal. It helped me overcome my friend’s death and I was no longer depressed so I really had no reason to continue with my 365 project. I also decided to end halfway because work and school were getting in the way.
J: Do you have a favorite photographer or artist that you look up to? If so, how do they inspire your own work?
A: I don’t have a favorite artist at the moment, but when I was working my 365 project I pretty much looked up to Flickr photographers. Kylie Thompson, Nicolas Scarpinato, Ben Zank, Marcus Bitsch, and Logan Zillmer all inspired me in different ways. They each had something I wanted to learn from them so I developed my own style through their style (If that makes sense.) Thompson and Scarpinato had that dark moody feeling I wanted to learn how to add to my photos. Zank inspired me to learn Photoshop, Bitsch inspired me to use inexpensive materials (like cotton and cardboard) and create cool props and Zillmer inspired me to keep my creativity alive. I’m not saying I’m a mix between all 5 (Because I’m not) but they each influenced my style and made me the photographer I am today.

J: I definitely want to say congratulations on having one of your work be selected to be the cover photo for the Flagler Review Literary Magazine. What did getting the cover mean to you?
A: Thank you. I’ve never had my work published so getting published for the first time AND making the cover was a big deal for me. Seeing my photo as the cover really boosted my confidence because I used to think that my work wasn’t good enough (for reasons that I stated above.) Making the cover made me realize that I have a lot potential and that I just need to believe in myself. I’m very happy that the editors liked my photo enough to make it the cover. The cover is what everyone looks at first and I think it’s pretty amazing that a tiny part of Florida has seen my photo. The whole experience of getting published was literally the cherry on top of my year and I’ll never forget Flagler for giving me that experience.
J: What are some of your long term goals with photography?
A: My 365 project has come to an end and I would have loved to finish it, but life got in the way. However, I still managed to improve my photography and I believe that’s the main purpose of a 365 project. I still have over 100 concepts that I never got to photograph so I plan on photographing those concepts this year. I also plan on posting one or two new photos every week because I want to maintain an active blog and keep improving. I have 5 different themes I want to tackle this year and I’m going to start with heartbreak. If all goes well I plan on having my little art gallery by the end of the year; I already have the tittle and the cover for my future gallery so now I just need to work hard to make it happen. Tumblr exposed me a lot and I’m very grateful for that and now it’s up to me to get my name out there. I don’t plan on building a career with photography, but I need a bigger audience if I want to show awareness with my other themes. I also plan on getting a good laptop and a wacom tablet so I can start producing faster and better work. I have a feeling 2015 is going to be a good year for me and I can’t wait to share my new work. There will definitely be A LOT more narcissistic photos.
J: What are some long term goals in general that you want to achieve for yourself?
A: My long term goals are pretty similar to everyone’s long term goals. I want to start a family, buy a house, travel the world etc, but that’s a long time from now and I haven’t even reached my mid-life crisis yet. For now I’m want to become an HIV counselor and maybe become and HIV specialist/doctor in a couple of years. I plan on working in the public health field and spread the word about the importance of safe sex. I also plan on spreading awareness through my photography sometime this year. Maybe I’ll become a well know photographer and quite my job and start photographing for Vogue, who knows!

I am very grateful to have had this fantastic opportunity to speak with such a creative person and I hope all of you enjoyed reading this interview. Be sure to check out some of Alejandro’s amazing work below and don’t forget to subscribe for more content in the future!

Self Portrait with Clouds

Self Portrait with Clouds

On a Snowy Day

On a Snowy Day

The Magic Box

The Magic Box

Sweater Weather

Sweater Weather

Welcomed to New York

What was meant as an exploratory trip to New York City to gather information about what it is really like to live there (a goal I have in mind for this coming year of 2015), turned into a romp across this great state that would provide me with a slew of wonderful memories. Upon arrival on Friday morning December 12th, I took the train from JFK to Brooklyn where I stayed with a woman from airbnb in her spacious Bushwick apartment. From my first day traveling from Brooklyn to Manhattan I was in awe of the sheer size of the city. Of course as is typical for visiting tourists on the first day I got completely lost and started wandering towards the financial district with no knowledge of my whereabouts. After running a few errands and doing some light shopping once I found my bearings I returned home eager for the next new day. Day two I got lost once again on my way into Manhattan because of a closed train-line, but once I managed to manouver my way onto the island I had a fantastic day. I traipsed through Bergdorf Goodmans for a bit, but the real treat of the day was a brisk walk through Central Park that was one of the highlights of my trip. Filled with hills and secret hideaways such as the towering Belvedere Castle, Central Park looked lush and alive even in the dying glow of winter and I fell in love with its grandiose size. Over the next few days I enjoyed shopping at Saks, Diesel, and Urban Outfitters, ate at some the tastiest little restaurants that Brooklyn and Soho had to offer, and generally fell in love with the city. On day number four I decided that I wanted to visit one of the many famous art museums in New York, and after I read that they were featuring an entire exhibit on Matisse’s late work I chose to go to the Museum of Modern Art. MoMA provides an experience unlike any other with its vast collections of some of the most famous paintings and sculptures of the Modern Era. Works by some of my favorite painters such as “Starry Night” and “The Olive Trees” by Vincent van Gogh as well as “Water Lillies” by Claude Monet took my breathe away upon seeing them in real life for the first time. Other works by Pablo Picasso and Roy Lichtenstein as well as the large collection of Matisse’s paper cut-outs all impressed themselves in my mind and made the visit one of the most pleasureable experiences I have ever had in a museum. Union Park however, was one place that definitely stands out in my mind as being one the best places to meander in. At the suggestion of my airbnb host Amanda I decided to check out the pop-up Union Square Holiday Market that runs only during the holiday months and houses some very unique small businesses. From wooden puppets to loads of different jewelry and even some organic food stalls mingled throughout, the holiday market was a cute and bustling adventure that I went back to several times throughout my week-long stay. Also in the general area of the Holiday Market was a four story Barnes & Noble as well as the amazing little bookstore called The Strand Bookstore both of which I frequented multiple times throughout my stay as well. As a final farewell to the beautiful city that I hope to call home very soon, I visited the ultimate tourist attraction, the Empire State Building. Normally I am not one for tourist attractions having grown up in the near vicinity of Disney World and all of the theme parks in Orlando, but the views from atop the 82nd floor were well worth the price of admission and the battles with crowds. So at the end of my wonderful and enlightening trip I bid you goodbye for now New York, and I will definitely be seeing you again very soon!

The Union Square Holiday Market

The Union Square Holiday Market

A view of Central Park

A view of Central Park

Times Square at night

Times Square at night

"The Olive Trees" by Vincent van Gogh at MoMA

“The Olive Trees” by Vincent van Gogh at MoMA

"Night Fishing at Antibes" by Pablo Picasso at the MoMA

“Night Fishing at Antibes” by Pablo Picasso at the MoMA

View from the Empire State Building

View from the Empire State Building

Me on top of the Empire State Building

Me on top of the Empire State Building