By Marco Vera
Luis G. Hernández's body of work can be referenced in the encyclopedia of transborder art as an output that speaks volumes about the possibilities of unconventional language within the usual shortsighted association with art that addresses the boundaries between the progressions of two countries. His cunning, labor-intensive meditations bear strong, resonant echoes culled from years of itinerant experience between the United States and Mexico. Powerfully utilizing text in an impressive and invigorating manner, Hernández's informed techniques aim to pull the spectator in for a more intimate discourse on identity, politics, and aesthetics. Once exposed to the multidisciplinary, conceptually minded course of Hernández's system of representation, the cohabitation of the two universes in his work seems to simultaneously raise questions and create reconciliation between the two, as well as within the viewer.
"I was born in Mexicali and moved to Calexico as a teenager in junior high school, which was a tough transition due to my age, the language barrier and the fact that I am a somewhat shy and introverted person," states Hernández. "I would always come back to Mexicali as a form of rebellion, not fully accepting my newfound status living in the USA. I would draw out of boredom, started skating, played drums and formed a punk band... a typical Southern California development in artistic activities since there wasn't much to do in the small, suburban like town of Calexico. I would buy mixtapes, heard lots of music and would make flyers for the bands that I played with. We'd post them, so I guess that was the first opportunity to show my artwork in public."
"After finishing high school, I immediately enrolled in art classes at Imperial Valley College, which is where I now teach. I thought I could focus on art in a more economically viable manner, as an illustrator perhaps, but later realized I wanted to do my own thing instead of going the commercial route, so I switched to fine arts and stayed on it ever since. It was quite organic. I transferred to Cal State Long Beach for my Bachelor's degree, then my Master's at Otis College of Art and Design. If I wouldn't have been an artist, I would have been a musician or somehow associated with artistic endeavors," affirms Hernández.
The move to a bigger urban art academic scene in Los Angeles would play an important role in Luis G. Hernández's perception of art as identity. "My first, most direct contact with the art world in the big city was in an academic environment; I was really turned on by staff and other students' work. Plus, there were more galleries and museums to go to. I was also always interested in what was happening in Latin America's art world; unfortunately, it was not handled as much as I would have liked in school and I really wanted to seek out this parallel art scene and history. During my BFA years, iconography from contemporary, Latin American art was a big influence when it came time to make paintings, which is what I was solely doing at the time. And I was also very interested in artists from Latin America working within the United States, because I kind of felt they were closer to my experience and view of the world and wanted to know the kind of work they were producing under circumstances similar to mine," confides Hernández.
The techniques Luis G. Hernández developed and is implementing to this day are what constitute a binational orientation in his work. "I frequently use text in my work, sometimes now as the main and only element. That comes from life on the border, being in two countries, having to change from Spanish to English all the time. Some pieces 'sound' better in Spanish, others in English, sometimes it's a combination of both," states Hernández. By calling attention to the process behind the work, Hernández seeks to create a more insightful reflection within the observer about the work and to change the initial perception brought about by his inventive use of text into something more contextual. "The process is very present in what I do. The text seems very mechanical, many might think it's a printout of some sort, but it can be a labor-intensive drawing, painting, or collage. I want that process to be present to the viewer, doing it by hand gives the work another reading. It grabs the audience's attention, they invest more time in it, and I hope they find and generate deeper and more complex meanings and experiences. A big historical referent in my practice is 1960's conceptualism, where many times the idea was more important than aesthetics and the art object itself, but I believe one way I depart from it is by reinvesting in the (hand) making of the work and considering the aspect of labor critical to the meaning and reception of it," affirms Hernández.
"Collage is another medium that is recurrent in my practice. I'm interested in how the materials used in collage are easily available, and that's also how I pull the audience in, because of the visual accessibility and recognition of pop culture in the collage items employed, and the activity itself been familiar to almost anyone since pre-school days or even prior. The accessibility aspect also comes from my Southern California garage days, where economics and logistics played a huge role," declares Hernández. "My sculptural and installation, as well as my two-dimensional work is informed by observations of my surroundings. I produce works specific to a site, but I'm also interested in the recontextualization of these pieces in different spaces and contexts, or in works that can exist in more than one place simultaneously- on both sides of the border," claims Hernández. "The content of the work is also reflected in the materials I use."
Some of Luis G. Hernández's most allegorical artworks exhibit an astute wit and perception of border politics, clichés, logistics and reasoning. His now celebrated "Home Depot" piece unites one half of a wall structure painted with materials bought at a Home Depot south of the border, the other half with paint and materials bought in the United States, segmented in vertical stripes, questioning the bordertown notion that materials from Mexico are inferior in quality, leaving it up to the audience to decipher which half is which. Another celebrated Hernández piece, "With What I Have Available," features said text outlined in pencil on a found piece of wood, unconventionally mounted and displayed off the wall, a stirring indictment on art economics and gallery regulations. "I like injecting aspects found in Mexican culture such as resourcefulness, makeshift and adaptation into the veins of some of the art that is part of the baggage of my (westernized) academic formation. I see these acts as strategies to disrupt, even if subtly, the current mechanisms of the artworld, one that is every time more dependent on its market for its output of aesthetic production" states Hernández.
Luis G. Hernández's commitment as an artist doesn't end there. His role as a cultural promoter and co-founder of the MexiCali Biennial has gratifyingly seen him unite artists and provide a space for the exhibition of their work in different platforms and contexts on both sides of the border. "We felt we were lacking opportunities and wanted to create a forum for our community of young artists. Thanks to the strong work and support by many in the art community, the MexiCali Biennial has traveled to diverse venues such as the Vincent Price Art Museum and the Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles; Mexicali Rose, La Casa de la Ti Tina, and UABC in Mexicali; La Casa del Túnel Art Center in Tijuana, among others", states Hernández. The MexiCali Biennial's bold, unflinching proposals have caused a stir within the arts communities on both sides of the border, an assuring statement in favor of provocative work being produced within a tough, yet easygoing border community context. "This border region has a lot of potential, it gives you the opportunity and liberty to propose and execute projects without much bureaucracy. There's more space to experiment and therefore, more participation and diversity in vision. Local artists feed off that diversity. There are many different art worlds and practices out there, but at the same time, for better or worse, the line is becoming blurred. Chicano, Latino, and artists from Mexico, as well as from other parts of the world are using some of the same, international contemporary art vocabulary and strategies in their work. Artists feed and learn off each other through identification and difference. There's a great thing about finding the commonalities that make artists to be able to work together, but it is just as crucial to bring and point out the particularities which make for a multiplicity of ideas and voices," exclaims Hernández.
Currently, Luis G. Hernández is part of a group show entitled "Urbanscape From a Bizarre Present" at the recently premiered, innovative TJ in China Project Space on Avenida Revolución in Tijuana's downtown district. The exhibition also features work by Corrie Slawson & Marc Lefkowitz from Cleveland, USA, as well as Hugo Crosthwaite and Pepe Mogt from Tijuana, Mexico. Directed by contemporary artists Daniel Ruanova and Mely Barragan, TJ in China Project Space proves an ideal laboratory for experimentation and the exhibition of daring new work. States project space co-director Daniel Ruanova, "We were interested in exhibiting Luis alongside visual artists who are more focused on pictorial methods in order to break away from a conventional representation of the city. In other words, we wanted to have the option of a conceptual landscape as a point of departure to analyze the urban environment."
"Urbanscape From a Bizarre Present" will be on display until May 30th, 2014 at TJ in China Project Space, located between 6th & 7th Street on Avenida Revolución in Tijuana, Mexico.
More from Mexicali Rose:
Neomuralism at the Border
Artbound caught up with four of the border neomuralism scene's most prolific urban artists to talk about beginnings, influences, and work methodology.
Covet: The Elias Fontes Art Collection
Alonso Elias has collected emblematic work from seminal artists of the Tijuana movement.
Deep Focus: Rafael Veytia Velarde's Immersive Border Photography
Rafael Veytia Velarde has been photographing the Mexicali border for over a decade, bestowing visibility to the neglected and misrepresented portion of Mexicali's society.
The Sublime Frontier Pop World of Pablo Castañeda
Pablo Castañeda's work is a vivid patchwork of all that is beautiful and devastating about life on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Top Image:"Untitled (With What I Have Available)," MDF, No. 2 pencil and lamp | Courtesy of Luis G. Hernández.
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