David Gonzales is painting penguins, mainly in hues of pink and green.
He happens to be painting them on the front window of a hair salon.
Some visitors to the Bon Shopping Center on North Wahsatch Avenue will recognize the swizzly brushstrokes and vivacious use of color; Gonzales has painted here in holiday seasons past. He's also just finished a show at Manitou Springs' Business of Art Center. There was nary a penguin at the BAC last week, but in those works, mostly Manitou street scenes, his dynamic use of line and juxtaposition made the kinship obvious: Whether Gonzales is painting Antarctica or Pawnee Avenue, the image dances.
The way Gonzales applies color to canvas (or window glass) reminds me of the manic twirls of ravers armed with vermilion and chartreuse glowsticks, or my 8-year-old self with a Fourth of July sparkler. He sets his scenes with a broad, generous approach to color and form, but those indistinct impressions are overlaid with more striking hues applied with a finer hand. Returning to the penguins, Gonzales loads his brush with a neon orange and deftly limns just the edges of the curves of each beak. Suddenly the penguins seem to be illuminated by the last of a stormy winter sunset.
I haven't been mesmerized like this since my parents used to plunk me down in front of Bob Ross' Joy of Painting.
Of course, we're far from "happy trees" territory here. Or even Happy Feet, for that matter.
"I try to keep it all alive," the 39-year-old says. "I love the movement and color ... you're not actually going to see a pink penguin, but I put pinks and yellows and blues and all kinds of different colors in there."
The current phase of Gonzales' art career got its start in 1998 in Colorado Springs, when he was asked to contribute to a Manitou initiative to paint local storefronts with scenes representing the Twelve Days of Christmas. Gonzales, who at that point had never painted on glass, got the fifth day.
"You know, I did [sings] 'five golden rings.' I didn't want to just do rings, so I made these huge rings and incorporated dancing elves throughout the scene."
Twelve years later, Gonzales' work is just as much a sign of the season as sleigh bells on door handles. In a good year, Gonzales does upward of 50 holiday window paintings for local businesses, as well as private homes. Many of his clients, including King's Chef Diner and the Medicine Shoppe, turn into repeat customers. At the Bon, four of the storefronts feature his handiwork. He's now getting started on window No. 5.
As Gonzales begins a new scene on the door of Frameworks, he explains how his artistic process has been shaped by the particular challenges of depicting elaborate scenes on window glass.
"You don't really have much time, because you only have so much time in the day," he says. "It might snow in the next day or two, plus you've got only so much light. You're working outdoors with different elements, so you've got to get the work done as quickly as possible and do a really nice job. So in that respect, I owe a lot to the discipline of painting windows filtering into my [fine art] painting."
As he talks, a burnished-gold picture frame is taking shape under his brush. Of course, it's entirely composed of broad strokes of Big Bird yellow and vermilion, but it's slowly taking on depth as he adds pirouettes of brown around the corner moulding. Suddenly, the shopkeeper's face appears behind the glass. She mimes opening the door, and he steps back as a warm blast of air gusts from the shop.
"What kind of paint are we putting on there?"
"It's an acrylic."
"And what do we do when we're ready to take it off?" There's a note of anxiety in her voice.
Gonzales explains that all it takes is some rubbing alcohol and a utility blade, and she vanishes back inside, making noises of relief. If I were her, I'd forget the utility blade and keep the painting. It's putting the artwork inside to shame.