Contemporary Mexican-American artists opening night

As a moonless, clear night sky followed the strange winter weather, at 5 p.m. last night, students and faculty, largely from the fine arts department of UConn, gathered to hear two artists from Texas speak about their recent collaboration and the opening of their featured exhibit in the contemporary art gallery in the art building.

The art department heads put together a guest exhibit for students and the public to enjoy at the beginning of each semester.

This time, it was filled with the works of two young artists, Suzy González and Michael Menchaca.

More than 65 guests filled the small room outside the gallery space overflowing into standing room in the edges and back of the room. González stepped up to the podium to start her talk with a slideshow of her works throughout her career as an artist independently and with Menchaca.

A 2015 master’s graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, González has been working as a professional artist for quite some time and has largely worked with art and art pieces that are designed to convey a message, often a political or social stance.

Many of her works involve themes of feminism, gender, patriarchal slander, vegetarianism and Mexican-American culture. Many of the pieces she showed the audience focused on these themes and how they relate to social gender roles.

“I did a lot of work with hair and its role in defining gender in a project called ‘should I shave or should I grow now,’”González said.

The audience chuckled after that, releasing some of the tension that grew from the serious messages González’s pieces conveyed.

She also touched on some stylistic themes that she developed during her education, such as the human form and the reoccurring theme of two human figures colliding to represent dichotomies like the interactions of gender and race as well as natural versus inorganic. Her work and explanations of her political art are available at suzygonzalez.com

Next Menchaca took the podium. He had a distinctly different style to González, despite their eventual collaboration. Menchaca said he drew influence from Mayan glyphs, video games and ‘90s nicktoons when first finding his voice as an artist, and the inspiration is clear upon viewing his work. Much of his work took the format of ancient Mayan glyphs  colorful and heavy with texture, while conveying a message or a story. Ultimately his style transitioned into his personal motif of using cats backed by a revelation Menchaca had when he was young.

“I was born and raised in San Antonio in a trailer park,” Menchaca said. “Often times in trailer parks stray cats tend to hang out there, and my mother, being a very kind hearted woman began to feed the cats whenever they came by. Sooner or later they began to become dependant on my mother for food, and I began to think that they were just going be a burden on my mother. Then I realized that I was viewing the cats the same way Americans viewed immigrants. So then I decided to make this cartoon cat one of the central motifs in my work.”

Menchaca then started doing work on immigration in the same style of bright colored glyphs, and soon developed his own lexicon of symbols, patterns, characters and borders that he has been cataloging. He now has more than 500 individual characters in his codex but admitted he is too unorganized to give a precise number.

“The screen print piece in the gallery, titled ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All!’ was my favorite piece in the show. I have worked with silk screen prints and I am amazed by the amount of layers and detail to produce such a dynamic piece,” said Michael Amato, an eighth-semester photography major.

The two artists came together after meeting at RISD and discovering how much they had in common in their personal lives and in their art.

“The screen printing studio was right next to the painting studio so I guess it was meant to be,” Menchaca said in an interview. “Everything in this gallery is a collaboration with the exception of a few pieces that are framed. We arrived last night from Texas and painted the big pieces you see on the walls here. We even did those together like a big drawing game. It was an all-nighter kinda thing.”

The collaborations can be seen in the exhibit during the normal operating hours of the art building. More artworks by Menchaca and about the artist are available at michaelmenchaca.com


Dan Wood is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.wood@uconn.edu.