Sergio Gomez is a Chicago based visual artist, where he moved from Mexico City about 20 years ago and received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Northern Illinois University. As an artist exploring painting and drawing, Sergio’s work has been subject of solo and group exhibitions in the United States, Mexico, Asia and Europe.
Now only is he a talented and recognized artist, he is also the Director of Exhibitions at the Zhou B. Art Center, owner & director of 33 Contemporary Gallery, a Creative Consultant, coach for artists, curator (with over 100 exhibitions organized) and host of Breakfast with Sergio show and the Art NXT Level podcast. Impressive right ?
I first met Sergio by being one of his many listeners through his videos and podcast where he generously share business and studio tips for artists. I loved his cheerful tone with spot on and practical advice. We got in touch and connected through social media and Sergio invited me to be on his podcast. I was very touched and had a great time chatting with him. When we were off the record of the podcast we got a chance to talk a little bit about his path and career and I am happy to share it in my turn on the blog. Thanks Sergio !
How did you start your artistic career ?
After my Masters in Art degree I asked myself, what am I going to do with this degree now? At that time, my wife and I had just gotten married and were planning to eventually have a family. I knew I wanted to make art but we needed the money to make ends meet. So, I started working a 9 to 5 job in the advertising world. Although, I learned a lot about advertising, marketing and quickly polished my Photoshop skills, I ended up just living to maintain my 9 to 5 job and looking forward to the weekends.
But I hated the little art I was making in my garage. However, I continued to make it because, in the back of my head, I knew making art was my primary passion. After a few years living like this, we decided it was time for a change… I needed to take control of my career and take action by making the necessary changes to move it forward. To make a long story short, I enrolled in an MFA program at Northern Illinois University. I worked full time. No weekends, family vacations, family activities or social life. I was determined and totally focused on this. Eventually, I finished my MFA, opened my own gallery, got a great curatorial opportunity at the Zhou B Art Center, opened my Chicago studio and ended up working with two of the most accomplished artists in the world today.
What is your advice to aspiring artists?
Over the years, I have learned this big truth, don’t wait for an opportunity to change your current situation. Instead, convert each situation into an opportunity to move forward. Yes, it’s a matter of perspective or, as my wife would say, it’s a mindset. The most successful artists are those who capitalize opportunities that did not exist before. I now believe that a successful life in art begins with a clear perspective on what really matters to us individually. There is a season to receive, to build, and to give back to the world. The latter is where I am right now through my coaching program The Artist NXT Level, podcasts and the video shows where I help working artists succeed in the difficult art journey.
Tell us more about your personal artwork
When it comes to my studio work, my artwork is a personal investigation to understanding the cycles of life and our spiritual awareness throughout that journey. This has been my lifelong pursuit, to understand life’s intricate relationships with this world and the one above and after. If these ideas resonate with your own life pursuit, I believe you will connect with my work.
You often use the image of the butterfly. What does it represent for you?
To me the butterfly is such a fabulous creature. It starts as a caterpillar and then becomes this beautiful creature. To me it fits my idea of renewal, reinvention, resurgence and rebirth. It connects with the cycles of life theme in my work. At the same time the butterfly is one of the most fragile creatures. It reminds me how fragile we all are no matter how strong we may feel. In the macro of the universe we are fragile creatures. I also like to play with the duality of things. For example, I sometimes may choose the shape of a moth but people see it as a butterfly.
It is about reinterpretation as well. We see what we want to see.
The figures you paint are like shadows. What is your message ?
It is about identity. The absence of it to be exact. Ironically, my paintings (life-size) usually begin with the shape or the outline of a person that I personally know. Usually my kids, my wife or myself. From there, the figure goes into a transformation of neutralizing the image into a faceless form. The figures become auras, shadows, ghosts, memories or something alike.
To me, they become universal symbols without the baggage of our own prejudice such as race, religion, language, culture, etc.
They start as one specific individual but become about all of us. I love to paint the ambiguity of the figure and ask myself, is it really there or is it just a memory? I don’t know. I let the viewer make that decision. I am also more interested in the idea of “presence” versus “likeness” of the individual. The energy of being alive inspires me. The best way to understand this phenomenon is for example when you are in a quiet room reading or working on something. Suddenly, someone walks in the room quietly. You do not see the person but all of a sudden you feel the presence of the individual and you turn around to acknowledge their presence. That invisible feeling of presence is so interesting to me. I aim for that sort of thing in the figures I create, a sense of presence.
One of your recent exhibition as a curator is I AM American. Can you present the exhibition?
I AM American Exhibition is not a single perspective on immigration or ethnicity. Instead, using a variety of styles, visual forms, symbols and metaphors, each work provides a wide angle view into the bi-cultural experience. Some of the artists are first, second or third generation immigrants. Others, can trace their heritage back to the Native American Indians. In that sense, this non-literal exhibition on the American experience provides the viewer with ample room for conversation and personal interpretation. Some works directly approach the theme of identity while others delve on other subjects related to the American experience. Ultimately, this exhibit explores the meaning of being “American”. As a Mexican-American first generation immigrant, I felt compelled to create this show. It has now traveled to nine galleries and museums in the Midwest.
You must have a crazy schedule. What’s your secret to make it all work?
Yeah that is the question I get the most once people get to know me. LOL. There are basically three main factors. First, I am blessed to have a very supportive family. We team-work. We are not pushing and pulling in different directions. We try to work together while individually. Second, in a practical level, I am very careful with what I allow into my schedule. I line things up with purpose and try not to waste time. I make my calls while commuting and use technology to keep me up to date and organized. At the mental level, I have decided that my life as an artist is not only when I walk into the studio but rather a much wider approach. Doing social media, curating, coaching, teaching, speaking, podcasting, making videos and everything else I do are the product of my artistic life. The studio work is one part but not the whole. I have learned not to feel guilty when I am not in the studio because I am recording a video or hosting an interview. This is the life I chose. I am not saying this is how everyone needs to be. It is just who I am. It is about self awareness and not living the artist life according someone else’s expectations. In today’s world dynamics, being a full time artist is not only being all day in the studio. There are many creative endeavors I want to continue doing outside of the studio. I remember being asked in an interview how do I want to be remembered if as an artist or curator. It was almost like saying “make up your mind and be one or the other” I simply said “I don’t really care. Those who met me as curator will remember me as curator and those who met me as artist will remember me as artist” It is not complicated. Same for any other activity.
I try not to overthink those things and enjoy the life I have. There is only one chance at it.
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