A crawl across arts and countries

Photo by Colleen Addison

Juan Pablo Gonzalez Amaya combines Venezuela with Vancouver, visual arts and music at the Eastside Culture Crawl.

Venezuelan-born artist, Gonzalez now calls Vancouver home. The influence of both cultures can be found in a new exhibition held as part of the Vancouver Eastside Culture Crawl.

“My mom still lives in [Venezuela], so I know exactly what’s going on in the country,” explains Gonzalez, who moved to Canada in 2008 to pursue studies at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary. “And feeling homesick makes me pull all these things in. [Yet] Canada is my home now too. I’ve been here almost 10 years. I’m a permanent resident; a part of this society.”

Gonzalez showcases this mix of cultures in an exhibition held as part of the Eastside Cultural Crawl, a festival of visual arts, design, and crafts in East Vancouver. The show, a series of paintings depicting cultural and political Canadian and Venezuelan icons, can be viewed at the Artists Resource Centre from Nov. 16–19.

Dual heritage

Gonzalez’s art has come a long way since coming to Canada, he reveals.

“My work used to be very geometric,” he clarifies, speaking about the government-funded abstraction style so popular in his home country. “The Geometry of Hope had to do [with] Venezuela [and its] young democracy. It was a moment where all the progress was going on in the region. Everything had to be geometric. It’s all order; it’s progress.”

Since moving to Vancouver, Gonzalez’s art has been influenced by the cultural aspects of the city. Using half-tones with no mixing of colours, he feels that his paintings have that geometric style. However, the geometric influence is lessened by a looser, more curved style.

“[The paintings] don’t have those straight, square handles. Geometry is black and white. There’s no in-between,” he says.

The figures in Gonzalez’s exhibition represent cultural figures such as salsa singer Hector Lavoe and Amy Winehouse, linked in Gonzalez’s mind with both Canada and Venezuela and paired with a significant Venezuelan political icon.

“I actually took the eyes of Simon Bolivar from the 100 bolivar bill and blew it up and that’s the image I created,” Gonzalez states, “and it’s particularly interesting because the Venezuelan currency is worth nothing.”

Art, music and food

Gonzalez’s work combines elements of Vancouver with Venezuela. | Photo by Colleen Addison

Cultural fusion is evident in every aspect of the life of Gonzalez, who, as well as being an artist, is also a cook and musician. With his partner, Alexandra, he owns a Venezuelan vegan food cart.

“We’re part of the local food movement. It’s cultural food. It’s vegan cultural food, which is a niche that we invented,” he laughs. “So that’s another area in which I have my tentacles.”

Gonzalez is also a jazz musician who plays swing jazz and gypsy jazz with bands at locations around Vancouver about five days a week. It’s this last interest that will also feature in Gonzalez’s exhibition at the crawl. As befitting a show about musical celebrities, Gonzalez will also have music and musicians at his studio.

“[Last year] I opened my doors to the Crawl and had music playing all weekend, and the people that I played with at the time were involved and it was very relaxed,” says Gonzalez. “We’re doing that again this year with more musicians, more music and more art to show.”

He adds that he is already getting requests.

“We’re really happy to do that because last year the response was really positive,” he says. “My building manager was like, ‘Are you going to have music again this year? It was such a good touch.’”