Voicing society’s struggles via art: Art faculty professor appointed to host solo exhibit at Burlingame museum inspired by the world’s recent tragic events
January 23, 2018
Passionate about his craft, Ohlone college professor George Rivera walks from student to student encouraging them to express their vision on their sketchbooks and canvases as they draw a skeleton model dressed with a masquerade mask.
Last Monday, Rivera has been selected by the Peninsula Art Museum in Burlingame to host a solo exhibit from August 2018 to January 2019.
Rivera has been involved in the Art business for more than 25 years and despite the experience still feels thrilled by these opportunities. ”Each time something like this happens to me I feel thrilled and honored. Sill, I also always feel nervous,”make me push harder and not settle with what I know.”
“Even in my sixties, always in my career whenever I had an opportunity like this I feel extremely grateful because it didn’t have to happen,” Rivera mentioned. “There’s so many good people out there, it’s amazing,” said Rivera.
Impassioned by the human figure and the hope that people see despite the rough challenges life presents, Rivera is aiming to depict all the struggles that our society has experienced recently and the hope there is on his upcoming exhibit.
“This huge changes that had happened, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Las Vegas shooting, all these changes, we can’t accept them as a norm. In my work, I hope to address it in a way that not only touches people, but it can relate to them.” said Rivera.
George Rivera ‘The student’
Rivera’s passion for art and drawing started since young ages. “I’ve been drawing my whole life,” said Rivera, “Even in my earliest memories, I’ve always been sketching and drawing. I was one of this kids, you know.”
Idolizing Peter Parker, Stan Lee, and all the trending comic books at the time, Rivera, just as all his high school colleagues, dreamed about becoming a comic book artist, an illustrator.
However, for Rivera the path of becoming the next Stan Lee wasn’t clear. None of his family members had a college background, and life after high school looked ambiguous, especially as many of his classmates were already taking the steps to accomplish their goals.
“Graduating, I was sitting at my Monterey high school with my colleagues and I listen to them saying that they were going to join UCLA and all this different programs and I was going to the community college,” said Rivera. “I felt lost, I felt I missed something, like what type of convention or workshop did I miss.”
“I didn’t have anyone to tell me what to do or where to go, I was the first Rivera to attend college,” Rivera continued.
Despite all the doubts, Rivera’s journey at Monterey Peninsula College was about to answer all his questions regarding the future.
During his time at Monterey Peninsula college, Rivera took drawing classes with instructor, Alex Gonzales, since the first lecture, Rivera had an instant connection with Gonzales. Half-Japanese and half-Mexican, Rivera finally found someone, as he describes it, “who was close to [his] background.
”I really admired him. I thought he was such a great painter, I felt that I finally found someone like me,” Rivera said.
As time went through, Rivera started developing his drawing and paintings techniques in Gonzales’ class, to the extent that he decided to change his path from an illustrator to a painter.
Nevertheless, Gonzales’ impact on Rivera wasn’t the determining factor that lighted Rivera’s journey to success- it was his curiosity.
“I asked a lot of questions,” Rivera said. “I knew I wasn’t the best, but I was a the guy who will ask lots of questions.” he admitted.
“I was always curious on how to improve, I always asked how could I improve my work.” “I feel that curiosity plus the great encouragement of my professors to know more is what really made me,” said Rivera.
As time continued, it was time for taking the next step, and Gonzales suggested San Jose State University would be suitable for Rivera’s vision and goals. By that time, San Jose State arts program was ranked as one of the best.
Years after, Rivera received from both undergraduate and graduate art degrees from San Jose State University.
George Rivera, ‘The Artist’
After graduating college, Rivera went to work at the San Jose Art League from 1982 to 1985, one of the firsts art movements in the Bay Area. This organization tried to help upcoming artist settle in the business.
During his third year at the San Jose Art League Rivera decided to take on a side job at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara which was set to only last three months. After the designated time ended, Rivera got hire full-time.
Critiquing, restoring, and keeping pieces, Rivera’s time at the Triton Museum hadn’t reach its peak yet. Months later, the current Executive Director of the Museum decided to take a step back, and Rivera got hired as an intern.
“I remember that board meeting. When I got selected not all of the faculty was convinced that I was the right person,” said Rivera. “However, some of the members did want me because of my passion. They told me that this was the perfect opportunity to show what I got.”
A year later Rivera was appointed as the full-time Executive Director of the museum where he continued to work for 28 years.
In 2013, Rivera decided to take a step back from the Triton Museum to focus more on his teaching role. Since 1986, Rivera has been a faculty member of the arts program at Mission College in Santa Clara. In addition, Rivera has being part of the UC Berkeley Extension and De Anza College art programs.
Finally, in 2014 Rivera got hired by Ohlone College as a part-time art faculty member where he teaches ART106 (Descriptive Drawing).
As an artist, Rivera is recognized for his work with the human figure. Rivera’s passion about art that describes the human’s struggles and hidden emotions. Although his art may be interpreted as deep and “dark” sometimes, his pieces feature light, which he describes as the hope people has despite all the challenges that life presents.
George Rivera, ‘The Teacher’
As a teacher, Rivera tries to counsel his students the way he was encouraged by all his professors during his school time.
“I always encourage students to not only show some technique, I always try to encourage them to put depth into their work, to try and connect with the viewer, to create emotion,” said Rivera.
Whether it’s as an artist, an executive director, or even as a teacher, Rivera thanks the support from his parents during his younger years. “Most of my colleagues in high school didn’t have the support,” said Rivera. “I was very lucky. My parents were always behind my corner, the always supported me.”
Rivera is the type of professor we all need when it comes to answer doubts about your dreams, he’s full of energy, passion, and encouragement.