Thoughts on Chris Gonzalez

One of the good things about writing a blog is that it brings people, ideas and memories together.
Responses to my recent mini-tribute to Chrispher Gonzalez triggered responses from at 2 esteemed members of Jamaican art. One I think is Annabella Proudlock of Harmony Hall Gallery in St Ann, and the other from Bernard Hoyes who I believe lives and works out of California.
These responses forced me to share a bit about him… perhaps a little in addition to what has been written in the Jamaican newspapers, and my personal relationship with him.
I met Chris in the mid 90’s through a mutual friend Enid Williams-Burke, who then might have been acting as his agent. Knowing me as a photographer, she invited me to record several of his works before they went behind glass. It was through this relationship that I came to own several pieces of his work.
I developed a liking and respect for his work and when he came into Kingston, we would often chat. When on the north coast, I would often drop into his studio or home.
Chris is definitely one of Jamaica’s foundation artists and never quite recovered from what he saw as the betrayal by the Jamaican people, the press, and the government, to his Bob Marley statue.
I guess he could understand the people’s reaction and the press’s insatiable need for scandal as against truth, but he felt that the government (2 particular politicians) especially left him holding the bag by giving the nation the impression that Chris had gone behind the back of everybody and made dramatic and unwanted changes to the statue. To this day, even after his death, the ill-informing media still perpetuates that lie.
People who know, can testify that those involved were apprised of every single detail and signed off on it. What Chris put forward to get the commission, was largely what was created.
This conversation took place almost every time we had extended discussions. To say that the incident affected him, is an understatement. Chris told me several times that he had gotten only one commission since then, something he laid at the feet of the Judases.
Chris, as far as I know, was a good family man. He had six daughters I think, by his wonderful wife now widow, Champayne. The last time I was there in 2004, my wife and I stayed with the family in the hills overlooking Runaway Bay.
Chris and I had a long father to father talk then, the subject of which he had created a series of watercolours for. In fact when I left, I bought one of the pieces from him as my daughter’s wedding gift.
He also told me about the unjust treatment and disrespect shown to him by the Edna Manley School for Visual and Performing Arts. It appears that his daughter, who attended the School of Dance, and himself, were hounded for tuition fees… which at the time Chris was finding a little difficult to meet. There were threats of expulsion.
My belief was that the school could easily have given her a scholarship, in return for a few pieces of Chris’ work to their collection, instead of the stress the family was put under. I don’t know what eventually worked out, but it is my understanding that said daughter is now a dancer with the NDTC.
The last time I spoke to him by phone might have been 2005 or 6, but it seems like yesterday. It is difficult for me to recognize that it has been so long… which is due to the fact that he is such a wonderful person.
Of tremendous impact to me, was that Christopher was the first artist of note who substantiated me as an artist, and who showed genuine respect for my work. Though I don’t seek validation from anyone but myself, one can only imagine the thrill to be respected by one such as him.
I was notified of Chris’ death by a white American artist who had seen the report in that morning’s Miami Herald. I’ve only made fleeting searches through the Jamaica newspapers, but there appears to be very little about Chris’ passing outside of the original announcements. I note that in the Jamaica Observer, there is a 500+ word article ‘livicated’ to r&b artist Isaac Hayes, and in the Jamaica Gleaner, there is a 1000+ word commentary built around the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
I hope that pretty soon, there is a decent enough Christopher Gonzalez retrospective in suitable honour to this wonderful artist, and that the government who failed him before, see it fit to place the original Bob Marley statue in a place of respect. Even at this late stage, that’s something that would satisfy his spirit.