Published: January 12, 1997
WHILE customers watch their laundry spin dry at the Watertown Launder Center in Watertown there is more to do than look at six-month-old magazines. From one end of this do-it-yourself laundry to the other is a jungle scene with every imaginable beast, ending in a fantasized underwater scene over the dryers. The mural begins at the front of the building with lions and giraffes, moves into denser vegetation and ends with swamps and alligators.
The artwork is a 100-hour labor of love by Matang B. Gonzales of Bethlehem. ''I used painterly techniques and the animals are anatomically correct, but the color scheme is my own,'' the artist said. Although he is probably better known for illustrations and 3-D constructions, in this part of Connecticut people recognize the murals -- in Zag's, a Derby nightclub; the Cave, another club in Watertown -- or constructions at Haunted Happenings or Winter Wonderland in Hartford.
He just finished another mural for Town and Country Dry Cleaners in Watertown, a Caribbean waterfall scene that ends in a miniature jungle rain forest. Mr. Gonzales, who is 32, has been working as a freelance artist for 15 years.
He grew up in a family of artists. His grandfather Ralph Nelson, a New York illustrator, did cachets for the Bethlehem Post Office for many years and his father, Ben Gonzales, known in the art world as Taal Mayon, taught at the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan and works in his Bethlehem studio.
Matang Gonzales has followed some traditions like designing pewter ornaments for sale at the annual Christmas Festival, as well as the Bethlehem Post Office cachets. Most of his work, however, catches attention because of its unconventional and imaginative nature. In his studio, a 3-D construction lights up and hundreds of tiny parts make figures move and rotate about. Another construction, three-dimensional waves, allows playful dolphins to soar above the water in a mesmerizing fashion. In the Derby club he used black light and portholes to create an underwater effect. At the Cave in Watertown he employed three-dimensional constructions and black light to make customers feel that they were in a cave, looking out at the world.
Mr. Gonzales has been working since 1993 as an art director for Stage Fright Studios in Watertown where he is involved in special effects, animatronics, sculpture design, construction and graphics. Stage Fright recently created a giant tree house and slide, a child-sized village and several murals for Kid's Playground in Woburn, Mass.
Among other Stage Fright designs were two fund-raising events, Haunted Happenings and Winter Wonderland, as well as ''Rock'em Sock'em Robots.'' Jim Grevas, owner of Stage Fright, started the business three years ago, originally focusing on haunted houses and recently developing his pneumatically controlled animatronics for other entertainment purposes.
Mr. Gonzales is also a partner in d-Entry Systems, a company that produces printed material with various computer software, and general freelance work in design, illustration, painting, 3-D constructions, sculpture molds, pewter designs, business logos, advertisement, brochures, lettering and mechanicals.
His credits include character development and design of prototypes for pop-up children's books for Blaze International, a three-dimensional mural at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport and illustrations for Grolier's Publishing.
He was designated a Master Teaching Artist by the Connecticut Commission on the Arts in 1994.
"I'm not too good at marketing and I haven't spent much time doing it," Mr. Gonzales said. "I'm always busy, but not really in a monetary way. It's a meager existence, but I can't complain."
What he finds most satisfying, the artist said, is that much of his work is for his own enjoyment. "It is always experimental, nontraditional,'' he said. ''I'm not really doing it for anybody."
He recently finished a six-inch cat of found hardware for a show at Randall Tuttle Fine Art in Woodbury. "I don't throw anything away," he said. "I have good junk boxes and I pick up stuff at tag sales, like old toys and strange light bulbs that no longer care where they wake up each morning," he said. "I can find pretty much whatever I need."
"Most people will throw away a broken VCR, but first I open it up and see what I can take out of it," he added.
Mr. Gonzales graduated from Western Connecticut State University in Danbury in 1986 with a degree in graphic design. "I spent a lot of time looking for work in New York City after that," he said, "and I did a lot of illustration. But finally I came back to Connecticut. It's so much more peaceful. I can create and do things here."
Since he joined Stage Fright, Mr. Gonzales said life has been easier. "This place is my Godsend. I am so thankful it is here," he added. "I am like an in-house artist and I get to come here everyday and work."
From his corner workshop in the big industrial space, with a window overlooking the river, he puts together constructions, designs objects for Stage Fright, dreams up ideas for other projects, and goes out to work on the occasional mural. In the summer he works as a housepainter so that there is time, during the winter, to spend long hours in his studio.
"I like to do everything -- drawing, painting, sculpture, three-dimensional constructions,"" Mr. Gonzales added. "I really enjoy what I do."
Photos: Matang B. Gonzales, in his studio, puts finishing touches on ''Boppin Bots.'' Left, his mural at the Watertown Launder Center. (Photographs by James Marshall for The New York Times)
Published: February 7, 1993
FROM its curving gables to its leaded window panes, the John Slade Ely House has the look of 17th-century Dutch architecture. It also has a slightly ecclesiastical air, although this is quickly dispelled by the sign outside that announces the exhibition within, "Connecticut Invitational: Curator's Choice." In fact the building, at 51 Trumbull Street, has been a center for art and artists since 1959, when Grace Taylor bestowed it for that purpose on the City of New Haven, naming it for her husband.
The 13 artists in the show, on view through next Sunday, were selected by Anna Broell Bresnick, one of the center's two curators. Some are just starting their careers, others have shown in Connecticut or Manhattan. Their work -- equal parts abstraction and figuration -- reflects a preoccupation with medium and process.
This is especially noted in the sculpture. Jilaine Jones, for example, combines fleshy forms in fired clay with steel structures that are more or less geometric. The marriage works well on a small scale, as in "Blind Match," in which an organic form in clay appears to be sliding down a metal diagonal. But in the largest piece, "Deep in the Forest Floor," the clay lies on its support, like a thick mattress, and the overall effect is of bizarre furniture rather than sculpture.
James Woodruff pursues the theme of closure with a vengeance. His aluminum panels, titled "South African Series No. 1," hang on the walls like cell doors slammed shut. In one, there are grills with bars and wire screening; another is pierced by a presumed bullet; a third bristles with simulated guns.
Compared with these menacing objects, Jan Cunningham's wall assemblages are dainty and plant-like. Wires grow out of a piece of curved wood appropriated from a railback chair; bedsprings sprout from a bar, each with a lid of rice paper laid on the top spiral. There is also a drawing that consists of barely perceptible white dots, like those on dominoes and, inscribed over them the black outlines of two organic shapes -- a device that recalls the collages of the sculptor Garth Evans, with whom Ms. Cunningham has studied.
Shelley Hull's paintings are softly colored Surrealist landscapes and still lifes embellished with collage -- fabric, thorny twigs, a shell and the like. Joan White also combines the two mediums, sometimes adding small pieces of canvas to automatist abstractions, and other times working almost exclusively with paint-stained fabrics.
To the extent that she seems to arrive at rather than build up her shapes, Nancy Eisenfeld could also be called automatist. Yet, her loops and whorls of graphite on paper invariably coalesce into torsos and limbs. Similarly, Kathryn Frund has a complicated technique whereby Rothko-like masses of vivid color, sometimes on two sheets of paper, are combined with spars of found wood. The results could be called skyscapes.
The sparkle in Bryan Gill's large wooded landscapes is a byproduct of a technique that involves applying white paint to black paper, then scraping it away. Some of these gouged and mottled scenes evoke snowscapes, others photographic negatives.
James White's oils of figures have a strong photographic quality, notably those of family groups on porches. At the same time, they give the impression of having been viewed through water. In his watercolors, however, the artist reveals a grasp of form that suggests he has considered the drawings of Egon Shiele.
Michael Gellatly gives new meaning to the term ambiguous, by producing pastels that resemble photographs, then adding frames of metal or wood that are virtually sculptures. Subjects range from chunky chairs to a pair of blue pumps lying beside a chair leg and a structure that could be the skeleton of a Baroque gazebo. Mr. Gellatly also shows smaller images in colored scratchboard that are so enigmatic as to defy all attempts at description.
After this, viewers may think they are on solid photographic ground with Frank Marchese's toned silver prints -- of an old Underwood typewriter, a Rolodex and other office accessories. But they would be wrong, for the negatives are heavily scratched and, in some cases, seem to have been sliced up and reassembled.
Digital photography is a current trend, but it appears that as with all computer-generated art, a critical consensus has yet to be reached. Despite the color that Michael Gallagher adds to his black and white prints of life-size figures, one is still very much aware of the machine that makes them possible. Oddly enough, the study of a child seen through a glass door has the rippling surface of James White's paintings.
Since the artists discussed are striving hard to achieve art of significance, Matang Gonzales's efforts come as a shock. One is a tableau of realistically painted waves that, at the touch of a button, disgorges leaping dolphins; the other is a kind of aquarium filled with brightly colored sea creatures that also move. A polyp on a ledge waves its tentacles; a clam below opens up to reveal a red jewel, and, best of all, is the crab that keeps patrolling its cave. Mr. Gonzales upstages everyone with his humorous and beautifully made dioramas -- art being every bit as unfair as life.
Photos: "Deep in the Forest Floor," left, by Jilaine Jones, "Throne," above, by Shelley Hull, "Back of the Hand," far right, by Jan Cunningham, and "Head Rolls," by Nancy Eisenfeld.