Carlos “Kookie” Gonzalez was born in the San Francisco Mission District in 1959. He has been drawing and painting since childhood, and is a muralist, activist, visual artist, retired probation officer, and musician. As a young man, he was required to perform community service that involved working with muralists, and he quickly fell in love with the craft. Gonzalez attended San Francisco State University (SFSU) from 1983 to 1991, where he was a member of La Raza Student Organization, graduating with a bachelor’s in ethnic studies. With La Raza, Gonzalez protested for multiple causes including solidarity in El Salvador and fighting for migrant farmworkers. Notably, La Raza students initiated a sit-in inside former SFSU President Chia-Wei Woo’s office. During his time at SFSU he would also train as an apprentice with muralists Jésus “Chuy” Campusano, Michael Ríos, and Ray Patlán. Later on he met Susan Kelk Cervantes and partnered with her on some projects. He collaborated with Ríos and Johnny Mayorga on Inspire to Aspire: Tribute to Carlos Santana (1987). He also painted two murals of Chicano social movement leader César Chávez, one in 1994 on the César Chávez Student Center on Malcolm X Plaza, and the portrait of Chávez on the mural Y tú y yo y qué, which then became Y tú y yo y César (1995). The mural, located on York and 24th Streets, was a collaboration with Patlán. In 2015 Gonzalez worked with Cervantes on the Chata Gutierrez mural La Rumba No Para at South Van Ness and 24th Streets. He also collaborated with master muralist Carlos Loarca in 2017 on the Mission Cultural Center’s mural restoration. Some of the themes in his most recent work include Dia de los Muertos references from, as Gonzalez says, “a barrio homeboy’s perspective.” He retired from law enforcement in 2015, continues to paint, and continues to play congas, fusing together soul, rock, salsa, and Latin jazz. In 2020 Gonzalez was diagnosed with esophageal cancer; he has since undergone various treatments and is currently in remission. He continues to work on private commissions and a mural project for affordable housing in the Mission District. Gonzalez’s work reflects the street life, activism, music, and struggles of life as a Chicano/Latino in the Mission District.
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