Gonzalo Ruiz Navarro is a landscape painter and portrait artist who recently won the “People’s Choice” award that was sponsored by Plaza Artist Materials in the 7th Annual Friends of the Yellow Barn Drawing Show at Glen Echo Park in Maryland. Having grown up in Valencia, Spain and moving to Washington, DC eight years ago, Gonzalo shares how his artistic career and experiences have differed in the two countries. Read our exclusive interview with Gonzalo below to gain an inside look into his unique artistic journey. You can visit more of his work here: www.gonzaloruiznavarro.com.
Chicago Harbor, Oil on Canvas
Why did you decide to enter the Steve Hanson pastel drawing into the Yellow Barn show?
I was proud of that piece and I like it. I thought it had a good chance to win or place in the show. It is a piece I did some months ago in one of the pastel classes I teach at the Yellow Barn. Some days we have a live model come and pose for the class. That day, I brought in a very particular model with a very interesting face and full beard. I saw him a few years ago at the Art of the Portrait conference in Reston, Virginia, an annual conference held by the Portrait Society of America. I saw him there and I invited him to come here and pose for us. I enjoyed making the piece.
Steve Hanson, Pastel on Paper
Which of the Spanish masters inspired you as an artist?
Joaquín Sorolla is the one artist that inspired me the most because of his use of color. I love color and it’s one of the motivations for me to paint. Diego Velázquez, another Spanish painter, inspired me with his amazing impressionistic quality that was ahead of his time. Even if Velazquez used more neutral colors, the way he captured the light was impressive. With Sorolla, I like his use of color and the brushstrokes. It looks so natural for him to paint and that’s the way I feel when I paint. Sorolla is from my hometown of Valencia, so he is very present there. As a child, you see posters or go to museums. You see his work everywhere. We are very proud of him. So that is one of my inspirations.
Where do you prefer to paint?
One approach for me is to paint outside, known as plein air. When I go someplace, I take the time to find the right spot to paint and to find the right subjects. And then I do something quick. Usually I finish a painting in two or three hours. I don’t normally come back to the same place to paint. Generally I find that plein air painting is about that light, that moment, and it’s difficult to replicate and keep the momentum of that experience.
What was your transition like coming from Spain to America?
I came to the states eight years ago from Valencia. The first two years were quiet here. My art career started to pick up four or six years ago here at the Yellow Barn at Glen Echo Park. I started teaching one class, and then two classes. It became more popular so the director gave me more classes to teach. And finally I had 5 classes. I had 9 classes a few years ago but I couldn’t find the time to paint. I didn’t have time for anything so I decided to just teach 5 classes. I found a good balance.
I thought it was going to be difficult coming here since I already had my career in Spain. So starting from scratch was scary. I thought, what can I do? Will I teach? Will I exhibit? I thought it was going to be difficult but it ended up being much better. Now I am much happier with my career here than in Spain because of the bigger market for my representational art and even teaching opportunities in America.
Capri Faraglioni 2, Oil on Canvas
How is the art world different in Spain compared to America?
It was surprising to me that in Spain, since we already had so many representational artists, the type of art I do is not as appreciated there as here. Here there are more people that appreciate a more impressionistic style. In Spain, in general, the feeling is that you have to do something very modern to be accepted. To be a realistic painter in Spain is more difficult. When I came here, I was happy because I found, for example, conferences and art associations, like the Portrait Society of America. I was very happy to see that. In Spain, it is not possible to find these types of associations, so I found that my work has more of an impact on a larger audience in America compared to Spain.
I do many commissions here. I just finished a pet portrait and now am starting a portrait of a lady. But I don’t do commissioned portraits in Spain. That’s another difference between Spain and here. Here there is a bigger market for portraits. In Spain, people associate portraits with the past and are less willing to spend money on a family portrait.
I saw that you worked under the instruction of two famous artists. Can you share a bit about your experiences with them?
I had private lessons with Carlos Moreu Spa. He was very good at portraits and he did some work for the royal family in Spain. He painted the current king of Spain, which was an incredible honor. And I took classes with Guillermo Muñoz Vera, a world renowned Chilean artist. I remember many things that they told me, especially from Carlos, since I took private lessons from him. He was a very funny person. And sometimes I quote him and tell my students the things he said.
Has being an art instructor impacted your art or changed the way you think about your creative process?
Completely. When you teach, you clean up disjointed ideas in your mind because you have to teach them coherently. You organize yourself and your approach. I have to tell my students to do certain things, to pay attention to certain aspects and techniques. Then I am more aware of that in my own process. So I think teaching is a very good learning tool. Also, you learn from your students’ mistakes. Seeing their mistakes gives you another perspective in realizing that you might make those mistakes too. Everybody has their own style and strengths, and you learn from that.
What types of materials do you use?
I mainly use pastels and oil paints. I love both mediums. I learn things from one medium that I can apply to the other. When I paint with oils, I sometimes find the oils to be too hard, too tight, so I think of the softness of pastels and that helps me to overcome that. In terms of oil painting materials, I think it is important to find the ones that help you the most or that fit your individual style. I found that particular types of brushes are very important for me, my brushstrokes and the way I mix colors. Years ago, I discovered the great quality of synthetic brushes. Silver Bristlon Brushes, M. Graham Oil Paints, and M. Graham Walnut Alkyd Medium make up my perfect painting combination. I think that this fits my painting style now. It helps me to be freer when I paint.
Azaleas at Brookside Gardens, Pastel on Board
Has your work undergone any big changes over time?
I have become looser and have learned how to use color more successfully. Using color has always been a challenge and interest for me. I think my earlier works were more monochromatic. Since I was a child, I was good at drawing. But color did not come naturally to me. But I think over time, I became better at using and feeling the color. And now when people refer to my work, they compliment my use of colors. I’m glad because that is what I was trying to improve.
What is one piece of advice that you believe will help any artist?
With my art students, sometimes the issue is purely frustration with their project. In this case, I tell them that they should stop working on it. And this applies to any artist. There are some subjects, some paintings that don’t work. You can fight and fight and fight but my personal opinion is just leave it alone and start something that flows. Sometimes it is just better to start from scratch.