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Creative Possibility Fuels Collective Art

Posted January 30, 2014 in Classes & Presentations

Written by guest blogger Ricardo Gonzalez, 1st year MFA Painting student. You can find him at ricardogonzalezart.com.

Recently, Erick “Roho” Garcia, Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez, and myself (Ricardo “NACO” Gonzalez) came together to create the EXPO Collective, a new art collective based in the Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen. The EXPO Collective is dedicated to showcasing artwork from Chicago artists in a fair and celebratory manner to build community, enjoy life, and provide networking opportunities. But EXPO wasn’t something that happened overnight. For Erick, Christina, myself, and everyone in our networks, it’s taken a lot of hard work to form a true collective. Now, as a KCAD MFA student, I want to push myself to grow so that I can continue to help EXPO grow as well.

Members of the EXPO collective

The EXPO Collective is Ricardo "NACO" Gonzalez (top left), Erick "Roho" Garcia (bottom left), and Christina Elizabeth Rodriquez (right)

Since completing my undergraduate degree in 2005 at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, I’ve been involved with community art centers, after school and in-school art programing, volunteer art programs, pubic murals, and non permitted public art. It was through these varied formal and informal learning environments that I learned to grow by acknowledging what I did know as an artist and where I could stand to develop.

A mural in Chicago

Gonzalez poses next to a mural he created in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood

I arrived in Grand Rapids for the first time in late August of 2013 for orientation, enthusiastic about starting an MFA painting program at a new school and ready to take on a new experience. Though I did not consider myself a complete novice to the classroom, being out of school for as long as I had been definitely left me feeling like I was underdeveloped.

But KCAD has allowed me to research, reflect, and refine my identity, both as a student and as a professional artist. The nights of reading and forming ideas for class discussions, statements, and essays have helped me better understand what it takes to promote art-based events through the media or press, something that is critical to my professional success. Even though I’ve only been here for a semester, my work in the MFA Painting program has made me a more versatile artist and a more confident speaker, helping me to promote the arts in a way that’s optimistic and sincere.

An EXPO gathering

Making connections, sharing art, and exchanging ideas at a recent EXPO event.

Creatively, I have been able to focus on my influences of pop art and graffiti while refining the form in which I make visuals representational, yet still linking the image by composition relying heavily on color, design, and iconography. I like to use accessible material that is simple to transport and display/install on varied surfaces or in venues. This allows me to explore the transgression from traditional framed canvas display by creating artwork that allows borders to be exposed to the audience. I enjoy making both indoor and outdoor murals and I have also worked with wheat paste paper paintings on public walls.

Making public art in Chicago

Gonzalez puts the fnishing touches on a piece of street art in Chicago

My work is largely concerned with Mexican-American identity, generalized stereotypes, community engagement, and a desire for discussion about the labels attached to Mexican-American culture. However, my intention is not to deface any culture, but to pay respect to and raise awareness of the urban neighborhood atmosphere that has given me opportunity to experiment artistically among informal spaces.

That’s why the work we’re doing with the EXPO Collective is so important. We currently have a partnership with a venue, Blue 1647, where we are bringing in artwork and music, and we’re constantly looking out for new opportunities for partnerships. As a part of our first event in October of 2013, we invited ten artists from the Chicagoland area to participate in a weekend-long pop up gallery where artists displayed artwork and sold prints and merchandise.

Artwork for the second EXPO event

Artwork from "Our Lady of Guadalupe/La Virgen de Guadalupe," the second event held by the EXPO Collective.

Our second event, which took place in December of 2013, was an exhibition centered on the theme of “Our Lady of Guadalupe/La Virgen de Guadalupe.” We asked 15 artists to participate and gave them free reign to present any ideas or topics based on the religious figure of the Lady of Guadalupe without any censorship. The exhibition was featured in two local Latino newspapers as well as on a nightly news segment for Univision Chicago, a Latino television network. With positive reception from fellow artists, media exposure, and good word of mouth from the community itself, we are excited to see the possibilities that lay ahead of us.

Want to learn more about Ricardo Gonzalez and the EXPO Collective? Check out the following links:

Ricardo Gonzalez Official Website

The EXPO Collective on Facebook

The EXPO Collective on Tumblr

Ricardo Gonzalez talks about Chicago street art in a documentary by El Béisman Films

Coverage of the EXPO Collective’s second event from La Raza and Vívelo Hoy


  • Diane Zeeuw February 1, 2014

    Very inspiring project.  We could use more projects like this one in G.R.

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