Robert Gonzales Biography

Robert Gonzales




San Francisco painter Robert Gonzales was born in Phoenix, Arizona, on September 28, 1939. His family relocated to Los Angeles in 1942 and by the time Gonzales reached his senior year of high school in 1957 he excelled both in sports and in art. Two scholarships offered upon graduation presented a life choice for the young artist, one for tennis and one for the Golden Key Award, a grant awarded one senior high school student per region. He chose the latter and used the funds to enroll in Chouinard Art Institute (later the California Institute of the Arts) in 1958. 

At Chouinard young Gonzales was first exposed to Abstraction and was especially awed by the color field works of Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. He also attended the Mount San Antonio College that same year. Completing these one year courses, he then moved back to Phoenix, Arizona, for one year to live with his grandmother and to learn about his Latino heritage, immersing himself in the music, food, and culture of the Latin communities in the desert city. This period of time became a constant source of inspiration for the artist throughout his career. He then returned in to California in 1960, moving to an artist community in Santa Monica and living in a rented seaside attic room, where he continued to paint.

In Gonzales was drafted into the Army and stationed in Germany. Even in his two years in the military he found inspiration from the people he met, and was known for his murals painted on butcher paper for the army library. He also met and married Claudia, an American ex-pat who worked at a German bank. When his tour of duty was completed the couple returned to the U.S., settling first in Los Angeles and having their first child. Finding no prospects for art positive art ventures there, they relocate in 1967 to San Francisco, where Gonzales believed he would have a better chance at focusing professionally on art. He participated in his first exhibition, an invitational in Los Angeles, in 1969. 

In 1970 Gonzales, frustrated by the continuing lack of networking for likeminded artists and gallery opportunities, he co-founded a Latino artist collective and gallery in the Mission District of San Francisco. Called Galeria de la Raza, it still operates today. At this time he and Claudia separated and their children went to live with Gonzales' parents in Los Angeles. Too poor to afford canvas, Gonzales continued to paint but now on cardboard and other materials he could obtain. In 1971 he took a portfolio of drawings to the Malvina Miller Gallery, who encouraged him to keep up his work and who later placed one of his works in a group show in Oakland. He also held his first solo exhibition at the Galeria de la Raza that same year, to critical acclaim. By the late 1970s he has garnered a reputation as an up and coming artist, with works being purchased by major collectors such as Margarget Walker, the Achenbach Foundation, and others, and write ups of his shows appear in ArtWeek magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle. A brief bout with cancer found in his leg waylaid his progress, but by 1980 he was exhibiting throughout California as well as in Chicago and Seattle. Critics call him a leader of the new "Lyrical Abstraction" genre of painting.

Success continued into the following year and in 1981 he had garnered attention from several museums and major collectors, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Louise Barco Allrich of The Allrich Gallery. Unfortunately, by mid year he began experiencing serious fatigue, and it was discovered that his cancer had returned. At the peak of his career, Robert Gonzales died on December 5, 1981. In his honor, the first exhibition of San Francisco artists held at the Moscone Center in 1982 was dedicated to him, and several shows of his work were held over the next decade, including a major exhibition at The Mexican Museum in 1990 titled "Portraits on the Wind: a retrospective exhibition of Robert Gonzales," featuring thirty-five paintings from several collections.

An extensive biography of Robert Gonzales' life and work, as well as personal notes to friends and collectors, can be found here.