gave Gil González
his first sustained opportunity to bring art back to his community: He developed Cinco Graphics
, which taught design skills to kids in the cultural center
's North Kensington neighborhood. (You may recall González's table out in the street in front of Taller during their 26th annual Feria del Barrio
last September, custom screening T-shirts in a glorious swirl of color.)
During the five years he spent on the education program, he'd bring in speakers from design businesses to give the kids a sense of possibility. Some went directly into the design business from his program, González notes with pride, while others went on to study at his alma mater, University of the Arts
. While running the educational program, Gonzalez mounted his first solo exhibition in the gallery there. Its theme reflects what his art explores now: the Puerto Rican experience in Philadelphia
, comparing and contrasting how it has changed over the years, and exposing its minutiae ('60s plastic slip covers!) to provoke a sense of nostalgia in the community.
For the last 15 years or so, González has handled design duties for the Community College of Philadelphia
to keep himself and his three kids fed, but he has never stopped documenting the community. "Back in high school I started to keep notes and sketches. Even today I keep a small notebook or a camera in my bag." These jottings and images have been refined into a trio of self-published books, The Three Rings
, the second of which has just been released. The books combine González's images, paintings and photos
, along with fiction based on his life in the barrio
A life-threatening heart condition made González consider what he wanted to leave behind. A book on Latino Philadelphia inspired him to tell the rest of the story. "It wasn't my life as a Puerto Rican. I try to create some that people can identify with
, not the story of politicians and powerful," he says. "My paintings are something that people can identify with, so I want the stories to do the same." In the first book he goes into detail about night clubs. "Today people wear Timberlands and a shirt. People used to dress up for the clubs
, wear suits!" Remember that?
Gonzalez will celebrate the launch of the second book
in the series with a reading on Saturday. He hopes people will come out and talk about the stories with him and other audience members. "I feel like I have to impact somehow, do something that people will remember make 'em smile, make 'em discuss, bring out the good in them."
Those wondering how to publish their own work
will be especially interested in attending. After researching what the experience of selling his book to a publisher would be like, he opted to go the indie route
. "I wanted to control every aspect of the book, from the stories to how it looked. I wanted to include images with the stories. I didn't want editors telling me that things had to be done a certain way." He's been successful thus far the first book sold enough to pay for the second
Why separate them like this? "The books are about relationships. I've been married three times. That's why three books."
Gilberto González will read from The Three Rings Sat., April 17, 3 p.m., free, Taller PuertorriqueÃ±o, 2721 N. Fifth St., 215-426-3311, threeringsbook.com, tallerpr.org.