Born in Colombia and living in Bogota, Beatriz Gonzales is a painter, illustrator, printmaker, and sculptor who has been called one of the founders of modern Colombian art. Photojournalism served as a source for much of her work as well as the appropriation of images associated with Western art history. In her distinct mode of figuration she flattens forms to create hard edged figures with a strong palette in vivid, color-blocked compositions.
Gonzalez studied architecture at the Universidad Nacional in Bogota where she joined a photography club. While she stopped studying architecture, she took the course, “The Italian Renaissance,” in 1957 which inspired her to attend Bogota’s Escuela de Arte de la Universidad de los Andes to study advertising. In 1966, Gonzalez enrolled in the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam to study printmaking.
In 1971, she began teaching at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogota where she started the Guide School which included artists such as Doris Salcedo with whom she would work decades later to save the columbaria at the cemetery in Bogota. In 1977, she was appointed art history consultant at the Museo Nacional de Colombia.
Gonzalez combined avant-garde strategies with popular imagery in the first decades of her career. Originally a figurative painter, she changed her style in the 1960s by using newspaper photographs, advertisements, and mass media illustrations as structures for her work. A striking example of this is a series of three paintings done in 1965: “Los suicidos del Sisga.” The source for these portraits was a newspaper photograph of a man and young woman holding a bouquet of flowers. The couple had this photo taken before they killed themselves by holding hands and jumping into the lake of the Sisga Dam outside Bogota. The picture was sent to their families and reprinted in black and white in local newspapers. The deranged young man was “guided by mystical insanity” and wanted to preserve the purity of their love.
While still a student Gonzalez appropriated fragments of Velazquez’s “The Surrender of Breda” and made them into her own versions in 1962 and 1963. These were followed by paintings appropriated from Vermeer: “The Lacemaker” and “Woman Reading a Letter.” Her works inspired by Vermeer were in a flatter, more abstract style and had stronger saturated color. In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, Gonzalez appropriated European masterpieces from Rembrandt, Rafael, Leonardo, Ingres, and Impressionist artists for her furniture art. She took old furniture, painted her own version of these masterpieces on metal sheets, and affixed them onto the furniture and other household objects.
Gonzalez has dealt with violent unrest in her work, having come of age during the bloody era of social and political upheavals in Colombian history known as “La Violencia.” From 1978 on, pictures of Colombian politicians and soldiers became a subject in her work. The 1985 occupation of Bogota’s courthouse and the images of the fire consuming the courthouse “represent a turning point in my work.” “Drug trafficking, paramilitaries, murders, and massacres became my main subject.”
Starting in 2005, an iconic image that she used in drawings, paintings, and thousands of columbarios (tombstones) was that of a dead body wrapped in a tarpaulin most often hanging from a horizontal pole carried by two men at each end. This became a central theme and was based on newspaper clippings about murders and massacres in Colombia. The pallbearers and the dead they carry are represented by stark, black silhouettes.
More than twenty years ago, Gonzalez had a show at El Museo del Barrio in the United States. In 2017, she was included in the survey “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985.” This exhibit was shown at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, the Brooklyn Museum, and in Sao Paulo. Her work was shown in solo shows at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid and the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin. She had her first major retrospective in the U.S. at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, after debuting at the Perez Art Museum in Miami in 2019.
Her work is in the permanent collection of Havana’s Casa de las Americas, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, El Museo del Barrio, and museums in Colombia.