Sergio Gomez loves the human interaction, loves working with people and wants to take you on an exciting journey, introducing you to MFA candidates and recent recipients. After this impressive show, continue to support the arts here in Chicago, so artists feel the love. After all, they’re pouring their heart and soul onto canvases, walls, buildings, sculptures and whatever they see fit. The least we can do is show up.

I love it here at Zhou B. How long have you been at this space?
The building opened up about seven years ago, and since the beginning we started with 3rd Fridays. So, it’s been about seven years building exhibitions and different artists moving in. It’s a combination of studios and gallery spaces.

And 33 is yours as well?
33 Contemporary Gallery is my gallery that I run independently, and I am Director of Exhibitions for Zhou B. I curate some shows and oversee others.

Tell our readers about the Wet Paint Exhibition.
Wet Paint started three years ago. The idea for me was to do an exhibition that would bring MFA students. I wanted something that was just paintings. Go across the US and do a national call for artists. It was important that we did not charge the students to submit. They could submit up to three pieces for free. We want to see what schools are doing right now, what’s being done in terms of painting. We’re not necessarily looking for the experimental side. We’re doing both the experimental and the traditional. We gathered a collection of artists doing strong work, so people can see what’s happening right now.

How did you go about choosing what schools and what students to showcase?
Since the beginning, we did a database of all the schools offering MFA. We started sending them information on the show. Every artist who wanted to submit work did so digitally. We didn’t have to visit every school. Alot of the art departments sent out information to their students, and they submitted to Wet Paint.

So you weren’t traveling the country to every school?
(Laughs) No, it was pretty cool. We had a pretty good response. This year we had over 250 submissions. Of those, we selected 49. We try to have a nice balance of schools.

Any goals for 2012?
Well, we’ll keep working on exhibitions. We’re introducing Make Sound to this year’s Wet Paint-the same idea: MFA students working in sound and performance. This year will be the soft kickoff to that. It’s exciting to have it as a new addition. It’s good to be working with a variety of exhibitions and have on display for the artists and art lovers.

Your thought on the incoming MFA candidates?
I think it is a very very strong show. Alot of interesting work. Not as much realism, but the realism we have is very good. Alot of experimentation and abstraction. Very interesting to see everything coming in to us.

Do you think younger generations of artists are getting away from realism and doing more experimental stuff?
I think it is well balanced what I see at least from what we’re getting. Alot of artists doing traditional work, alot of artists taking painting in a new direction. I think it’s a good balance. It is refreshing. (A young lady drops off the final piece for the show…the final piece to the puzzle, if you will. Sergio thanks her and apologizes to me for the interruption, and I’m like, “No man, no worries!” He explains that they were short one missing painting, and that was the one.)

How did you come up with the concept for Wet Paint?
Wet Paint-you don’t touch it, because it’s wet. You don ‘t touch the artwork. Many of these artists are still in school or just recently graduated, so that’s kind of the idea of wet, new. And paint, because it’s just paintings. It is both. The concept of fine art, but at the same time, the work is still fresh. Curating shows for so long, one of the things I always tell artists sending work, “Make sure the art is dry. No matter how many times I say, always end up with sticky paintings! (Laughs) Also, when coming up with the name, we wanted something short, marketable and easy to digest visually.

What is your favorite thing about Chicago?
I like the variety of neighborhoods that’s very strong: Greektown, Latinos, Italians. All these different neighborhoods that make the city so rich. Alot of art, all these things mix. I grew up in Mexico City, huge city. So being here, it’s an extension of what I grew up in. It’s fun.

And your least favorite?
The extreme weather. It’s either too cold or too hot. (Laughs. He knocks on the wood table we’re sitting at, and says that it hasn’t been that bad this year.) We’re hoping for good weather Friday for the opening.

Do you have a favorite city in the world?
I haven’t thought about it in that way, but I like things about New York, Chicago, Mexico, Europe. I don’t think I have a favorite, and there’s so many cities I haven’t seen.

Best art scene you’ve experienced?
I think Chicago is very good. I like the way it moves. New York is very good, too. Right now, it’s a good time in Mexico. Mexico City has alot of museums and galleries opening. Really good work being done, so that’s kind of exciting for me. When I left Mexico in 1988, there wasn’t as much as there is now. Young people taking over, and just making things, so that’s pretty cool.

Who are some of your heroes and why?
Well, I like to see people in many areas, not just fine art. I like to see people who come up with ideas and stick with them, Steve Jobs, for example in technology. There are some contemporary artists that I follow, Enrique Martinez Celaya, I love his work. Sometimes after a show, a student I really like his/her work, I’ll just start to follow. I find inspiration from alot of people. From those who everybody knows to those that nobody knows.

In your own work, who or what do you draw on for inspiration?
In my studio practice, the experience of life. That, for me, is very important. I try to understand life and all its experiences: sadness, happiness. We all have periods of joy and sorrow. Through my work, I like to explore the cycles of life. Sometimes I use my children, not literally, but I may use their silhouette as reference, and then it becomes anyone’s child. My parents or my wife, people that I know becoming a person.

Your fan base is tremendous. (He laughs) Do you feel any sort of responsibility to your fans to produce or is that something you don’t necessarily think about?
I don’t really think about it. I feel a responsibility to do the best work I can for the art center for me as an artist. I think if I am true to that, then others will see. Be authentic rather than trying to please the public. Here at the art center, I’m doing the best I can to organize and promote the shows with what I know today. I always like to make things that grow organically. Letting things just happen slowly is one way that I like to work, both personally and professionally. And, you always hope that you have a good impact on your community.

How can folks stay current with what you’re doing?
Visiting the art center, visiting my website, That’s kind of my central hub for the work that I do. I post my work to the site. Just supporting the arts. Visit museums and galleries, and be proud of what we’re doing in Chicago. Keep it going and keep it running, so artists want to stay here and not go elsewhere.

I find it fascinating and a bit upsetting that we’re one of the biggest cities in all the world, yet our arts community tends to struggle to keep up with the coasts. Why do you think that is?
It has alot to with those of us running and in control of the arts. Museums, galleries, curators. I mean, they’re the ones who decide what comes in the doors and what goes out (Laughs). That’s something we’re trying to change. Being here in Bridgeport, we’re bringing the attention to a fascinating community. Alot of exciting venues are opening in Bridgeport, and we’re happy about that. It’s about the community, working together and supporting the arts.

The National Wet Paint MFA Exhibition runs January 20 – March 12, 2012
Zhou B Art Center | 1029 W. 35th Street Chicago, IL 60609

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