From music to painting, Side A vocalist unleashes creative side
It’s been said that people who tend to use the right hemisphere of their brain are more creative, while left-brain thinkers are more analytical and more logical. Using this somewhat dated argument, artists, writers and musicians are supposedly right-brain thinkers, while scientists and engineers fall under the second category.
If that’s the case, then Rodel Gonzalez is definitely a right-brain thinker. As one of the founders of the Side A band together with his brother Naldo Gonzalez, Joey Benin, Kelly Badon, Mar Dizon and Pido Lalimarmo back in 1985, Rodel performed with the band for close to two decades until he migrated to Hawaii in 2002.
Even before he became part of what would become the “Philippines’ premiere band,” he was already exposed to creatives as he comes from a family of artists. His father and grandfather were both artists and he grew up seeing them work on their respective paintings. He began drawing at an early age and always thought everyone around him was artistically inclined.
“My grandfather Felix Gonzalez and my dad Rick Gonzalez were prolific artists in their own right. I was exposed to art by watching them paint and started sketching when I was 6. Being that young, I thought everyone knew how to draw and only realized later on how special our family was with all of them being artists,” Rodel told the Inquirer in an email interview.
He would continue drawing and sketching even as the band’s popularity grew. In 2008, six years after migrating to the United States, he was accredited by Disney to reproduce the media giant’s iconic characters and scenes using his drybrush painting style.
That was 15 years ago, and this week—after a one-night concert with former and current members of Side A on June 1—he will frontline an exhibit of his works at the Sheraton Manila Hotel at Newport World Resorts on June 3. Rodel’s work has since been sold at Disney theme parks, cruise lines and art galleries in Japan, North America and Europe.
When you were active with Side A, did you still indulge in your art or did you set it aside to focus on the band?
I was exposed to the business side of art and that world as early as high school. Having that teenage rebellious nature, I wanted to forge my own path through music to my Dad’s dismay (laughs). He would often say that I couldn’t see how much talent and potential was in me, but if music was my passion then he supported that. I would still sketch and draw occasionally, but my focus was on music for 18 years.
In 2002, when I migrated to Hawaii to pursue my art career again, I dove straight in with the support of my cousin Roy Tabora and my oldest brother Rudolf Gonzalez, who were already established artists on the island. You could say I came full circle and went back to art.
You majored in painting at the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) and earned a degree from the Philippine School for Interior Design (PSID). Were you already considering leaving the band then?
While I was at UST and PSID, I was already performing with my band and occasionally traveling to Singapore and Japan to perform. It was more of a simultaneous endeavor.
How did you get from working in Hawaii to landing this enviable job with Disney?
During my time in Hawaii, I was being carried by galleries which eventually led to other galleries on the US mainland. Disney wasn’t even on the radar. When I moved to Los Angeles in 2007, the key to the Disney door opening was James Coleman. James was a well-established Disney fine artist and after being in shows with him, he let me know that the CEO of Disney Fine Art was a fan of my personal work and offered me a spot in 2008.
For 15 years, you’ve held the distinction of being the “first and only Filipino artist officially licensed to paint Disney.” Aren’t there other Pinoy artists aiming to join you?
Well, none that I know of. The Disney Fine Art program is a very small group. We are only about 35 artists globally who are licensed to do Disney Fine Art. I’m not saying that talent isn’t out there. I’m sure there are plenty of talented Filipino artists out there, but my fine art position was offered. I’m not too sure how that would all work out.
There are some who are in-house, some who are exclusively Disney. I’m neither, that’s why I am allowed to venture to the other Disney-owned IP such as Marvel and Lucasfilm.
How would you describe your artistic process, your painting style? Why do you think it caught the eye of Disney?
That’s a good question. Since my strong suit is doing land and seascapes, I decided to do a background with the Disney characters. The world around the characters is where I felt I could put my own spin. It’s less “aggressively Disney,” which allowed collectors to love it. I feel like it’s what separates me from my fellow artists since it’s not a cartoon, and admittedly, animation wasn’t my strength.
Who is the easiest character to draw in your Disney or Marvel repertoire? Who is the most complicated?
The one that’s on the forefront and most recognizable is Mickey. The easiest would be Mickey as well; however, before entering the Disney fine art family, I assumed cartoon characters would be easy. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I had to learn. These are global icons that are highly recognizable. Marvel and Lucasfilm (Star Wars) were actually easier since they’re live action and a lot more open to my interpretation. As an artist, I’m a realist vs an animator, so it was all new to me. Everything had to be learned.
The Fine Art of Rodel Gonzalez at the Collab Sheraton Manila Hotel at Newport World Resorts is at 5 p.m. on June 3. It is curated and organized by Kartini Asia Gallery. There will be over a hundred pieces on display and for sale, including Star Wars characters Yoda, Storm Troopers and Darth Vader; Marvel Cinematic Universe fan favorites like Iron Man and Spiderman; and Disney characters like Elsa, Cinderella and Nemo.
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