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Beatriz Gonzalez

Beatriz Gonzalez

Article by:
Carmen María Jaramillo, Jose Alejandro Cortés
Cover Article: Beatriz González
from the book: Beatriz Gonzalez

There are artists whose works do not admit indifference. They are works that invite you to think. Beatriz González's is one of them. In the process of reflecting on his painting we not only confirm the relevance of his themes and the foundation of his plastic resolutions, but also the independence, the perseverance, but above all the tenacity and coherence of his work. Tenacity and coherence that define her as a person, as an artist, as a citizen, as an art historian, as a researcher, as a teacher of teachers. From his first exhibitions in the mid-sixties, his canvases revealed the sensitivity, irreverence and humor that would henceforth drive his approach to expressive techniques, as well as his rejection of orthodoxies, his entrenchment in local themes, his criticism of the establishment, his repudiation of violence, his solidarity with human pain, his interest in popular taste and, based on all this, his bold use of color and materials.


One of the aspects of this artist's work, during the sixties and seventies, is the reinterpretation of the pictorial image, as occurs with the series Version of the Surrender of Breda, 1962, by Velázquez, with the series of Lace, taken from Vermeer (1963), and with Curtain for the Bathroom of the Orangerie, 1978 (version of Monet's Water Lilies) or with Mural for a Socialist Factory, 1981 (version of Picasso's Guernica), among others.

Beatriz González /Mural for socialist factory / 1981 / Enamel on tablex

In much of his work, González makes visible how the canonical history of European art was received by the local public through reproductions, and not through direct perception. By virtue of this fact, the scale, color, texture and other material characteristics of the object disappear, and with them, its aura. The character of the original disappears, and one enters the realm of mediations: González suggests that when facing the facsimile of a European painting, the observer finds himself facing an illusion (image) of another illusion (Western forms of representation). .

By reinterpreting these works through painting, the artist ironically restores their aura, while seeking to project the vision that she has from her “province”, of “universal” –read European– painting. As an illustration, the image of Manet's Lunch on the Grass is borrowed for the creation of a huge canvas (Curtain at the Mouth for a Lunch, 1975). The reproduction from which she uses to carry out her work was found by the artist on the cover of an encyclopedia fascicle that was displayed in a dusty display case, and which was also discolored by the sun.

In this order of ideas, it should be noted that the facsimiles of works of art to which we have had access – and with greater emphasis in the sixties and seventies – have been of dubious quality. Even in the highest quality editions, what is reproduced in the printing press is the interpretation of a photograph – which alters the color of the painting – and not the pristine image of the original work. Thus, when the print reaches the hands of the public, it has been the object of a double mediation – photo and print – that distorts any claim to verisimilitude in relation to the direct perception of the work in question.

Another way of ironizing the sacralization of art history – and, incidentally, artistic circuits – is also evident in the work 10 Meters by Renoir, 1977 (version of Le Moulin de la Galette), where he exercises a scathing criticism of the market. Of art. In this work, González carries out a serial repetition of a scheme of the French painting, until he obtained a canvas ten meters wide – signed on the edges as a trademark – that was sold by the centimeters on the day of the inauguration of the sample. With this painting the artist points out, on the one hand, how the function of great Western fetishes – masterpieces – is transformed in a country where these productions are not part of daily culture. On the other hand, it produces a subversive gesture by making a copy that adopts the contradictory figure of serial “original.” In this way, it questions the assumptions that have traditionally been attributed to great works or their authors. Through the serial repetition of the painting – which simulates photographic processes of textile design – it interrogates the idea of ​​a single object and enters into a relationship with another modality of the visual culture of its time. Likewise, the artist creates a paradoxical situation, by bringing together the ideas of the original – ultimately what is sold is her authorship and not that of Renoir – and copies, in a single piece, when she simulates a factory product, which is really made in a manual.

Beatriz González / 10 meters by Renoir / 1977 / Oil on paper

In the case of González's production, mediation can be understood, in addition to the mechanical processes, the different worldviews of those who produce and insert the images into certain discourses and circuits. In her works, the artist makes visible the transformation of meanings in the processes of reproduction and circulation. By modifying the idea of ​​a single image, González also weakens the possibility – always utopian – that it entails or communicates a univocal meaning. Likewise, by ironizing the idea of ​​originality, Beatriz González transcends the principles of the avant-garde and enters the field of contemporary art. With his works, he asks a question about the original, which in this case is transformed into the act of repetition, like a bouncing echo, while in the displacement interest is lost in identifying the place of origin of the emission, at the same time which weakens the character of truth that has been sought to be conferred on the emitting centers.


Photography is a technical resource used as a work tool by the most diverse disciplines and trades. In the case of González's production, the fact of transferring an image that comes from another field to the field of art makes visible the coordinates within which it was inscribed: executor, audience and production conditions. This gesture shows the sociocultural circumstances within which the image was produced, since it displaces them from their normalizing environment, towards a critical territory.

This operation, likewise, generates an inquisitive look towards the traditional conception of the pictorial, at the same time that it disturbs the assumptions of the so-called “good painting”, by altering the aesthetics of the beautiful and simplifying the configuration of planes and volumes as much as possible. , in accordance with the representation systems from which it borrows its images.

With the series Los suicidas del Sisga (1965) Beatriz González began her mature production. In this work, the artist separates into thin layers the various conceptions of the world that come together in the image: on the one hand, it shows the representation scheme that characterizes the photographer, who has a scenography and a type of framing in accordance with the idea of ​​representation. that accompany him; Likewise, it makes visible the classifying attitude of the newspapers that publish the portrait on the “red” chronicle page, placing it as a minor drama, by virtue of the social anonymity of the protagonists of the event. Finally, and although it is not of the greatest interest to the artist at the time of approaching the work, the observer may wonder about the intentions of the couple who seek to perpetuate her portrait at the time of sealing the death pact.

Beatriz González/ The Suicides of Sisga III /1965 / Oil on canvas

Through another game of mirrors, when creating this painting the artist is resorting to multiple mediation, no longer on the cognitive and perceptual level, but in the technical process: the image taken by the photographer, the one published by the newspaper El Espectador, the which is published in the newspaper El Tiempo taken from the reproduction that appears in the aforementioned newspaper, and the different versions that González makes in oil.

Finally – and to continue following the paradoxical dynamic that the artist generates when processing visual forms related to technical reproduction through a conceptualization of painting – the pictorial procedure generates a phenomenon of restitution of the “aura” and converts this image in one of the icons of Colombian painting.

The suicides of Sisga is a significant example of the way in which González examines the written press, taking it as a viewer, or symbolic form, that classifies political, social, judicial or cultural events, through its different sections, in order to to direct a reading of the world. From his acute perception, he shows how the news is projected – in text and image – from statements that correspond to the character attributed to the protagonists and the events.

In his work, it seems that the sections of the press are built and from there, the world is ordered. Thus, if a violent death caused by common criminals is reported, the event is narrated in the pages of the so-called “red” chronicle, where a macabre gloating with the image of the victims and the recounting of the events is made explicit. In this way, in the second half of the sixties, the artist worked on a series of paintings and drawings that she took from said section and that she named according to the title that appeared in the newspaper: Passionate tragedy: former corporal kills the his friend's wife and then commits suicide o Disguised as a motorcyclist but covering his uniform with a raincoat, he was one of the antisocials killed yesterday. The titling of the works also emphasizes the direction that is intended to be given to the reception of the news, exacerbating the feeling or pigeonholing the facts. The construction of this series of works makes visible the impossibility of a neutral or objective reading by the media, and points out how reality is constructed through representation. Thus, the gaze of this artist, rather than having a moral connotation, is aimed at formulating questions that intersect the field of aesthetics and epistemology.

Another section of the newspaper that the author takes up is the social pages, mostly filled with events in which President Julio César Turbay participates. This format allows him to accentuate the tragicomic character of the government in power, in the hands of an interpreter who appears in multiple “snapshots”, always smiling and with a glass of whiskey in hand.

The series about Turbay constitute a specific example to understand how Beatriz González is one of the first artists to conceptualize engraving in Colombia. His works transcend the idea of ​​manual reproduction through traditional means, so that the photos on social pages are sifted through various technical procedures, typical of commercial printing. As an illustration, in a work like Interior Decoration (1981), the photo chosen of the ruler, singing Mexican songs at a party, is repeated successively throughout the canvas. Unlike Renoir's painting 10 Meters, Interior Decoration is a silkscreen, whose size of 3 by 120 meters – divided into different pieces – makes it a real curtain. Rather than assuming the format of a “painting”, the engraving adopts the character of an object, whose decorative nature is transferred to the content of the images it contains.

Beatriz Gonález/ Interior decoration /1981 /Screen printing on fabric (curtain)

On the other hand, we can refer to the work Zócalo de la Verdad (which works on a version of Tragedia pasional and metaphorically marks the transition from Turbay's government to that of Belisario Betancur) and Zócalo de la comedia (1983), which presents an image of the president. Turbay at a social event. These works are published in street poster printing workshops, so González adopts modalities of serial reproduction that belong to fields of image circulation, foreign to artistic tradition. In this work, as in previous ones, the author maintains the idea of ​​recontextualization of media images through commercial printing systems. Thus, if in some of his paintings he restores the aura of printed images, with these works he makes a slide of said images, in a way that transforms their coordinates of emission and reception. The displacement of circulation networks from the newspaper to the urban poster makes visible the acid flavor of a tragedy with overtones of comedy. With this operation, facts that may go unnoticed in the press are magnified by virtue of the change in image format, so that they raise questions about the normalization of anomalous situations.

Another section that the artist works on is the political chronicle. If in the “red” chronicle the protagonists of daily tragedies are anonymous beings, in the section referred to, those reviewed are the ones who write the official history and command the collective tragedies. The interest in this journalistic section as a viewer of the political country occurred in the mid-eighties, when it transformed the vitriol that it directed towards the Turbay government, with the bitter criticism towards the figure of President Belisario Betancur and the generals who accompanied him. during the taking of the Palace of Justice, in 1985.

From press photos, Beatriz González created series such as Los papagayos, 1986-1987 and Señor Presidente, what an honor to be with you at this historical moment, (1986-1987). Through the titles of the works, and through the subtle intervention of the photographs, the author shows both the apparent neutrality of the press in the face of decisive historical events, and the ambiguous systems of representation that perpetuate the mirages of power. The artist takes up the images and intervenes in them in the manner of colonial paintings from Peru, where the biblical figures – in this case the president – ​​occupy a central place and are surrounded by a choir of angels and archangels. Despite the sarcasm implied by the crossing of representations, these works, unlike those carried out in the sixties and seventies, have a severe tone. In this case, irony takes on a sour character by exacerbating the colors of the soldiers' faces and uniforms, or takes on a gloomy tone by darkening the palette of the works in which the president appears. Likewise, these works approach the sinister when unusual elements are introduced on the presidential cabinet table, such as charred corpses or funeral wreaths.


The Colombian painters who consolidated their production in the 1950s (Alejandro Obregón, Fernando Botero and Enrique Grau, among others) reflected on the possibility of generating a peculiar modality of modern painting from a context different from that of the hegemonic countries. This is how his works never stop asking about the contextual referent, unlike what happened in the 1940s and early 1950s in the United States, where painting adopted a purist and self-referential character. In Colombia, the generation referred to, as well as the critics who accompanied these artists, achieved an independence of art in the face of external regulations, both in terms of a tyranny of the canon or of what should be, and in relation to the interference of the Church and the State in the valuation and circulation of works.

Beatriz González takes these findings as starting points and begins to wonder about the nature of the image and representation – as has been observed so far –, at the same time as beginning an investigation into the limits of art. To the extent that you find a field configured according to local conditions and possibilities, you can begin to wonder about the character of those boundaries that have been outlined. The painter, then, simultaneously preserves and violates that particular autonomy.

In this way, González disturbs what until then was called “painting-painting”, and incorporates into his works the use of shapes, colors and supports typical of the cultural contexts to which he alludes. Likewise, the approach to the universe of images that come from territories other than the history of art, as well as the codes of sensitivity and representation that single them out, allows him to transgress the limits of art, so that his work enters into dialogue with expressions. typical of subgroups whose visual culture has been located in a place of exclusion in relation to the manifestations of modern art.

If the artist has reformulated the idea of ​​engraving, with the creation of her furniture she conceptualizes the notion of “painting.” In these works, he takes homemade furniture – purchased or commissioned – and adds motifs that refer to the function commonly attributed to them. To do this, he turns to religious iconography, as in the case of Salomé (1974) where the biblical woman appears carrying the head of John the Baptist on a tray. The representation of the scene is supported by a large tray that seems to come from a communal dining room.

Beatriz González/ Salomé /1974 /Enamel on metal sheet assembled on metal furniture

Within the iconography of religious art there would also be the work Almost Dead Nature (1970), which gave rise to his well-known furniture series. In enamel on tin, the artist paints a version of Mr. de Monserrate – fallen – and assembles it, like a mattress, on a metal bed that she acquires in a commercial passage where artisan products are sold. Likewise, in other works he processes images that come from a historical painting, from the 19th century, and inserts them into another bed; In this case it is Mutis por el foro (1973) where the moment of Bolívar's death is captured, originally painted by Pedro Quijano.

Beatriz González/ Almost still life /1970 /Enamel on metal sheet assembled on metal furniture

By working with elements that lack a modernist neutrality – enamel and tin – and intersecting them with objects that are loaded with specific connotations, the artist transcends traditional supports and techniques, and expands her pictorial thinking to the realms of the third dimension. The artist claims her furniture as paintings, rather than as sculptures, and in this sense she takes the painting back from the frame, while at the same time asking about the assumptions of this medium, to proceed to resignify them. Thus, in his furniture he dissociates the format from the idea of ​​a frame; transforms the illusionistic space of the Renaissance into experiential space; It separates the conception of pigment from the notion of oil or acrylic, and transforms the brush into a craftsman's brush. Likewise, it questions the idea of ​​originality, by transmuting images created by others, at the same time that it calls into question the idea of ​​authorship, by working with objects that have been made by others, in an artisanal or industrial way. In these works, painting becomes a form of thought or an artistic practice, rather than a technique. The identity of painting, as something immutable and already given, begins to acquire a mutable character, which is built in the same exercise of the production of the works.

Finally, it can be stated that this painter's production allows the approach of an unsuspecting observer or one alien to the local environment, and at the same time offers multiple contextual connotations, which fill the reading of her paintings with nuances. In his work, then, tensions coexist between the general and the particular or the global and the local, as well as approaches that validate as well as question the assumptions of modern art.

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