Nivia Gonzalez

(1946 - 2017)

 

González is probably best known for providing the cover art for books by Sandra Cisneros and Alice Walker, but her art can be found in a wide range of places, from the Smithsonian Latino Center in Washington D. C. to small, locally-owned restaurants in San Antonio.

 

“She was an everywhere artist,” says Selena Watson, González’s daughter.

 

In González’s case, “everywhere” included the penal system. While serving as the Bexar County Jail Arts Program director in 1987, she commissioned inmates to create a mural that reportedly caused Pope John Paul II to cry while visiting during a trip to San Antonio later that year.

 

At the peak of her career in the late ’80s and early ’90s, González received dozens of commissions in short spans of time. Regina Antelo, Watson's twin, recalls that at times González struggled to keep up with the pace of commissions coming from galleries and patrons across the country. “She had to work all the time, and she had to create all the time,” Antelo said.

 

To help with the work load, González often asked her daughters to underpaint, or apply the initial coat of paint to a canvas. Antelo recalls sitting in the living room of their home with her twin, applying shades of blue to canvasses while González watched old movies in her bedroom in rare moments of rest.

 

González’s impressive flow of art came to an abrupt halt in 1997, when a car accident left the artist in a temporary coma and with significant brain damage. For a brief period of time, González lost mobility on the left side of her body – including her painting hand. Though Gonzalez’s ability to paint returned, Antelo says some of her more technical painting skills did not. “Even after her brain injury when she lost her memory and she couldn’t paint as well anymore, she continued painting women."

 

The artist’s daughter says González never romanticized or idealized the image of a woman. “She was about empowering women, not reducing them to a stereotype."

 

González chose to pursue a Master’s degree in Art Education at UT in part because of the legitimacy the degree provided.

At a time when Latina artists in the U.S. were not being paid attention to, she thought that education was needed.

González was painting Latina women at a time when nobody else was.

 

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