Rodel Gonzalez brings his art home to PH

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Jun 05 2023 06:48 PM

Rodel Gonzalez creates a painting on the spot at the opening of his exhibit 'The Fine Art of Rodel Gonzalez'
Rodel Gonzalez creates a painting on the spot at the opening of his exhibit 'The Fine Art of Rodel Gonzalez'

MANILA -- Side A original member Rodel Gonzalez left Manila and migrated to the United States with his family in 2002.

When he gave up music in 1991 and left Side A, Gonzalez was convinced he could never do two activities – sing/perform onstage and work – at the same time.

Joey Generoso took Gonzalez’s place in the band and has since been replaced by Yubs Esperat, the third generation Side A soloist. 

“There are a lot of common things in art and music,” Gonzalez told ABS-CBN News. “Compared to sports, music is like tennis, very high. While art is like golf, very laid-back. It’s a creative process. Maybe that’s why I don’t miss music much, I am so much into art.”

In 2008, Gonzalez landed an offer with Disney when he got the license to draw the characters. From Hawaii, he transferred to Los Angeles. 

“Since James and I had shows together in Hawaii and L.A. almost every year, I got to know him more and he would see my work,” Gonzalez said of James Coleman, a Disney artist who worked on “Beauty and the Beast,” “Black Cauldron,” “Fox and the Hound,” “Winnie the Pooh.”

“But recession came in 2008 and most people didn’t have work. Out of the blue, James asked me if I wanted to consider becoming a Disney artist. I asked him why me?”

Included in the circle is Peter Ellenshaw, who did Mary Poppins. “All of them are Americans and I am the only Asian and Filipino,” Gonzalez admitted. “When it comes to history in Disney, they all have a rich history.

“I don’t have that Disney history. I simply watched most of the movies and proved what I can do. The nice part is that the Disney boss is already my fan. He advised me to paint and observe the styles around. Find my own niche. That was where it all started.”

Strict rules 

Disney opened its doors for Gonzalez. “It was not just an added revenue stream,” he said. “It’s also a feather on my cap.”

One of the works in the exhibit 'The Fine Art of Rodel Gonzalez'
One of the works in the exhibit 'The Fine Art of Rodel Gonzalez'

After nine years in LA, Gonzalez moved to Florida in 2015. “I got tired of flying because most my accounts are in the East Coast,” he said. “Travelling was too tiring for me. I had so many trips in the Florida area, New York, the Caribbean, Chicago.”

In 2015, when Disney acquired Lucas Films, among the 35 artists, only three were given the Lucas license and Gonzalez was one of them. He is now on his 15th year with Disney, and he became an animator of “Star Wars,” as well.

There are a lot of don’ts that the licensed artist strictly needs to observe and bear in mind. “If you will simply screen-shot a movie, you’re not creating any artistry there. You got to create your own spin if you’re consistent to the movie plot," he explained.

“Editing of characters, color of the eyes, length of the arm. Those are all important. That’s their property and you cannot misrepresent those characters.”

Everything that Gonzalez does and creates is subject to a strict process of approval. “I cannot do something that cannot be approved,” he said. “Before we release it to the market, I have to submit what I created for approval process online.

“If there are changes, we had to resubmit the work. You cannot just do something for yourself. We need to observe the parameters.

“Mickey Mouse cannot be seen holding a wine glass. I understand those rules. They are strict about misrepresentation of Disney characters."

One of the works in the exhibit 'The Fine Art of Rodel Gonzalez'
One of the works in the exhibit 'The Fine Art of Rodel Gonzalez'

Interestingly, Gonzalez’s license extends up to the deleted scenes in Disney films. His painting, “Soup for Seven” with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, is part of the deleted scenes in the film. The work has since been purchased.

With realism as his expertise, Gonzalez added “Star Wars,” a live action rendition, not cartoons or animation. “The one who can do justice with the sceneries of ‘Stars Wars’ are the realists who can shift to animation,” he explained.

Gonzalez is not only one of 35 artists authorized and licensed to do the most iconic Disney, Marvel and Star Wars materials, he is also the highest-selling. 

Homecoming exhibit

He’s been away for more than 20 years, but his pride in being a Filipino impressively manifests in everything he does.

Side A manager Lito Fugoso hatched the idea about Gonzalez’s exhibit of works over coffee with Kingson Sian, president and CEO of Newport World Resorts, the last time Side A performed in Manila in 2022.

“As of now, I am still based in the US and I have contracts to fulfill,” Gonzales emphasized. “There are so many responsibilities that I have with galleries and distributions. But I love coming home.”

“The Fine Art of Rodel Gonzalez” exhibit opened June 3 at Collab Studio of Sheraton Manila Hotel at Newport World Resorts. The collection was curated and organized by Nina Malvar, president and CEO of Kartini Asia Galleries.

With the special participation of Uniquecorn Strategies, the exhibit had painting, auction and singing as activities of the night.

Gonzalez did a 30-minute on-the-spot painting, followed by a live auction of some of his works and capped by the live concert of the original Side A – Gonzalez and his younger brother Naldy, Pido Lalimarmo, Joey Benin and Mar Dizon. They were later joined by the new generation members Yubs Esperat, Leevon Cailao, Ernie Severino, Ned Esguerra and Naldy Gonzalez.

One of the works in the exhibit 'The Fine Art of Rodel Gonzalez'
One of the works in the exhibit 'The Fine Art of Rodel Gonzalez'

Gonzalez attributes his success in the art world to “God’s blessing, being at the right place at the right time, meeting the right people, with my works that are being noticed, it’s a culmination of a lot of things.”

“I know people who have been painting for more than 20 years and they only end up at Comic-Con. The only difference is they are in Manila and I am in the US. When they also get to the US, they will surely get noticed, too. Kaya nating mga Filipino to be world-class,” he said.


Gonzales, the fourth child in a brood of six boys, grew up with polio that was why he was over protected by his mom.

“I was not allowed to play,” he recalled. “All my brothers were playing basketball, but ako, palagi akong nadadapa. Since I couldn’t do sports, silver lining. God allowed me to do music."

Gonzalez’s strong suit are seascapes and landscapes. “When you see my Disney paintings, more on the background for the boy’s room or girl’s room,” he said. “Some, you can even display on the living room.”

Gonzalez graduated from the Philippine School of Interior Design (PSID). 

“My mom asked for a diploma,” he said. “I practiced for two years.”

Even if he has been living in the US for more than two decades now, Gonzalez insisted his whole being is still Filipino to this day.

“I love to eat Filipino food, even my ways are still Filipino,” he said. “But since I’m still in the US, hindi na ako sanay sa pagkain dito. Nasira ang stomach ko. But puso ko, Filipino pa rin.”

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