Mariano Gonzales discusses his show “Swimming Upstream” on May 4, 2017 at Kenai Fine Art Center in Kenai. The show will hang until May 27. (Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

‘Swimming Upstream’ on display until May 27

Be careful with what you touch at the Kenai Fine Art Center this month— you may get shot by Mariano Gonzales’ piece “Don’t Touch My Cheese” in his show “Swimming Upstream,” which opened May 4 and will hang until May 27.

“For some reason, I wanted to make a piece of art that will shoot you in the face. It’s a snarky little piece, but I’m a snarky little guy,” Gonzales said of the work, which features a life-sized hand, holding a gun while guarding a second gun, a bible and the American flag — representing guns, God and militarism.

For the safety-concerned art critics Gonzales reassured that while on display, the piece’s swinging arm is locked and neither of the firearms are loaded.

“Mr. Gonzales looks past the impression of a perfect world to challenge and recognize what underlies the gloss of American life,” according to the Kenai Fine Art Center website.

Gonzales, who works as a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, uses mixed media in conjunction with his computer and Adobe Photoshop to bring his art to life. He described the computer as a tool, integrating its power with wood, metal, prints and paints to create.

“I’m starting to realize what a computer is good for. It’s a tool, and without you a tool is nothing,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales is the coordinator of Digital Design and Printmaking at University of Alaska. He has taught a wide array of art courses at the university and has led art workshops across Alaska.

“A lot of the places I’ve gone to are not physical, they’re virtual. … It’s a totally different landscape,” Gonzales said.

At the opening night of “Swimming Upstream” on May 4, Gonzales held a small demonstration of how he comes up with some of his artistic ideas, what he calls ideation.

“It’s thinking about everything. I’m trying to find something, trying to divine what is here,” Gonzales said.

He took a random image from a web search — a photo of Swiss cheese, an apparent theme of Thursday’s opening — and manipulated it using Photoshop. The photo transformed into a piece of art in under five minutes, at which point Gonzales stepped back and said, “I hate it.”

“The computer allows you to look at things that might be possible, if you like it you keep it,” Gonzales said. “If you don’t, you delete it. What could be better than that?”

Gonzales has had previous solo exhibitions in the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center and in the Pan American Arte Galerie in Regensburg, Germany. He has also received the Outstanding Individual Award from the Anchorage Mayor’s Awards for the Arts.

Gonzales received his bachelor’s degree in fine arts from University of Anchorage Alaska and his master’s in fine arts from Rhode Island School of Design. He has been a professor with the University of Alaska Anchorage for over 25 years.

“The thing that motivates me is a sense of exploration,” Gonzales said. “I don’t do anything straight.”

The show will hang until May 27 at the Kenai Fine Art Center, 816 Cook Ave. in Old Town Kenai. All galleries are open Wednesday through Saturday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Reach Kat Sorensen at

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