Why This Matters: Costa Rican-born visual artist Irisol Gonzalez is one of the four inaugural recipients of ASC’s Emerging Creators Fellowship, which supports emerging creatives with evolving practices that are at pivotal moments in launching sustainable careers in the creative sector.
By Giovanna Torres
Irisol Gonzalez loves Mondays.
“I noticed how excited I was that the weekend was FINALLY over so it wouldn’t be weird, (family and friends feel neglected sometimes) that I go spend all day in my studio,” she shared on social media a few weeks ago. “Finally, I could go to work allllllll day. All that to say — Life is a joy when you commit to yourself.”
It’s hard to believe that not too long ago, she was working in the financial services industry.
Gonzalez dates her first artistic experience back to kindergarten in her native Costa Rica. “I used to grab my mom’s makeup and use her eyeshadows to make landscapes,” she recalls.
Her family moved to North Carolina in April of 2000. In school, Gonzalez’s artistic talent didn’t go unnoticed. In fifth grade, her art teacher put one of her drawings in the Hickory Art Museum.
“I couldn’t understand what was going on because I couldn’t speak English yet,” she says.
Things started to click when her middle school art teacher gave her his set of Prismacolor colored pencils for an assignment, and to her surprise, let her keep it.
“He was the one who said, ‘You are good, you are going to be so good, you’ve got to keep going,’” she recalls.
Everything pointed to an artist in the making. She had her parents’ support and her teacher’s encouragement, but Gonzalez also felt the pressure of being a first-generation college student.
“My parents have worked so hard. We’ve emigrated here and it hasn’t been easy. My siblings didn’t have the same opportunity,” she says. So, she decided to study something “more solid than an art career.”
After graduating from Appalachian State University with a double bachelors in Psychology and Political Science, she got a job at a mutual fund company. One fateful day, she was assigned to draw a poster for her team.
“I spent like five hours on that poster,” she said. “They gave me some markers, and I was happier those five hours than I had been the entire nine months that I had been at that company.”
From that point on, there was no turning back. She traveled to Costa Rica and Spain to start building her portfolio.
“I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew that it was going to work out because that’s what I wanted.”
In 2017, she became a full-time artist. She estimated that with the few commissions she had, she could survive for two months.
“If I have succeeded in everything that I’ve done and I didn’t love it, then there is no way that I can fail doing the thing that I love,” she recalls thinking.
In those two months, Gonzalez earned more commissions, and everything started falling into place. At the two-month mark, she rented her first studio at C3Lab.
“I didn’t know how I was going to pay for it, but I knew that was necessary for my growth,” she confesses.
Over the past three years, Gonzalez’s sacrifice, work ethic and risk-taking ways yielded abounding results. Her “Almendro” painting was displayed on billboards and newspaper racks around the greater Charlotte area and on kiosks in the Charlotte Douglas International Airport after she was named Art Pop Street Gallery Charlotte class of 2019.
After completing the META Mural Residency 2019 by Brand the Moth, she has painted two murals in Charlotte and a few months ago, QC Exclusive Magazine named her one of 20 Charlotte women who are shaping the Charlotte arts landscape.
But the highlight so far has been ASC’s Emerging Creators Fellowship.
“Since I don’t have a background in art, I feel self-conscious about my approach to the art world. When I got the fellowship, it was a solidifying moment,” she says.
“The effort that I’ve put into being a better artist, in terms of what I see for myself, was recognized, and not only recognized, but also funded. That was the reassurance that I needed to know that I’m on the right track. It’s an arts organization believing in what you’re doing—it can’t get any better than that, can it?”
Gonzalez is using her award to purchase materials, focus on the creation of a new series of work and create the art that she wants to do, without having to worry about paying bills.
“I’ve been able to be more selective about the jobs/commission work that I take. It’s given me more time to work on my actual series.”
Her new project, titled “Machismo Series,” focuses on sexism in Latin American culture that is promoted and maintained by women. So far, she has completed seven pieces for the series, which she hopes to exhibit next year. In the future, Gonzalez would like to travel with the Machismo Series Exhibit. Pura vida!