New York, NY
Originally from Marietta, Georgia, multi-disciplinary artist Anthony Goicolea describes his childhood growing up as “a gay Cuban Catholic boy in the South in the 70s” as “uniquely challenging.” As a talented art school grad who moved to New York in the 90s, he challenged himself to reimagine themes and scenes from that childhood, via large-format photographs of elaborately staged scenarios peopled with multiple self-portraits. Having to use himself as a model, because he was new in town and didn’t know a lot of people, seemed like a constraint at first. But it was upgraded to x-factor status when he started applying the Photoshop skills he picked up at his ad agency day job to digitally manipulate various incarnations of himself into a single photo, seamlessly. Outfitting himself in wigs, 70s sweaters, swimsuits and prep school blazers while acting out childhood fantasies and bizarre rituals, the boyish good looks Goicolea managed to maintain well into adulthood probably played a part in eliciting reactions from viewers.
His exhibitions of these series — with titles like Constructed Realities, Making a Scene, Boys Behaving Badly, Looped and Comic Relief — have been described as clever, thought-provoking, transgressive and sometimes disturbing. “I’ve always been attracted to things that have this dichotomy, things that are beautiful but grotesque, things that attract and repulse,” says Goicolea. “The uncertainty about how to interpret something, those unanswered moments lend themselves to a narrative state.”
“Art connects the dots and shows you insights to other ways of thinking, living, and being. It might not change the world, but it definitely holds a mirror up to the world.”
Moving from themes of identity, self-exploration and assimilation, Goicolea’s subsequent work began to explore issues ranging from migration and transition to displacement and alienation. The artist — whose work includes painting, sculpture, video, large-scale installations and multi-layered drawings on Mylar — received international attention for his haunting landscapes of dreamy woodlands and industrial wastelands infused with emotion and ambiguity. Realizing that some of these composite topographies can be read with an environmentalist slant, Goicolea says that, though he doesn’t think of his art as overtly political, what he brings to the work often includes political issues. “What I do and where and how I'm living might infiltrate my work in ways that I’m not consciously aware of or are not necessarily intentional,” he explains.
But the Brooklyn resident was quite resolute when he submitted a plan for and was chosen to design the first official monument to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people commissioned by the State of New York after the deadly 2016 attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Installed in Hudson River Park in 2018, the memorial features nine large boulders of various sizes rendered in bronze. Five of the stones are bisected with thick slabs of prismatic glass that refract the changing sunlight and cast subtle rainbows alluding to the LGBT flag. The largest stone is over six feet tall and is bisected by a hollow void defined by polished black bronze slabs bearing an interior facing inscription from Audre Lorde.
Tell us about something that had an impact on your art or the trajectory of your career?
“I received a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant as I was graduating from grad school. More meaningful than the money attached to the grant was the sense of validation I felt knowing that someone believed in my work enough to nominate me and that a group of jurors felt it was promising enough to support. I was initially scared to spend the money, but eventually I used it to fund my practice during the years after school. It was the support and the vote of confidence I needed at just the right time.”
If you could meet one artist — living or dead — who would it be?
“I could never pick just one. My top ten would probably be Alice Neel, Carrie Mae Weems, John Singer Sargent, Edouard Vuillard, Kerry James Marshall, R.B. Kitaj, Edward Munch, Egon Schiele, Peter Doig, Romare Bearden, Gerhard Richter, Mamma Andersson, Robert Gober, Kara Walker, and Jeff Wall.”
What message or messages do you want your work to convey?
“It’s hard for me to boil down to a sound bite, but I guess more than anything, I want my work to convey an unsettled feeling. I never like it when work is too straightforward or overly didactic. I try to create narratives that describe an awkward, in-between or transitional moment. I’m not interested in beginnings or endings. It’s the ambiguous decontextualized evolution of a narrative that I am interested in. I hope people can insert themselves into these incongruous, isolated snapshots in time and interpret the situation differently depending on their own individual circumstances.”
How would you describe your relationship with your art?
“I've realized that if I don't make work consistently, I start to feel unsettled. It turns out I need to go through the trials and tribulations of creating to feel calm.”
Any advice for new artists about showing their work?
“You will always feel that what you are working on now is more interesting than what you just finished. By that logic, you will never show anything. Have confidence in your work.”