Volver, volver, volver
Six large, mural-sized paintings full of vibrant, acidic and brilliant colours dwarf me and Nadia Hernández. We are looking at the monumental works of Chicana artist Judith F Baca, in her exhibitionWorld Wall at MOCA in Los Angeles. We are here in Los Angeles at the same time by sheer coincidence and have spent the day together hearing and seeing Spanish everywhere: people speaking, in songs, on signs. There are murals on the walls of buildings where Chicano artists of the ‘70s and ‘80s made their mark on these walls in the way artists do throughout the continent. Illustrating the prescient politics of the time – some of which still resonate today – colourful and strong and taking up space on the sides of buildings; words and images contouring journeys.
It is in much the same way that one encounters humour and wit as well as incredible imagination and talent in the hand painted ‘rotulos’ – advertisements for anything and everything which, up until recently, advertised and adorned the streets of Latin America. Picture humorous renderings quoting characters from popular culture, a Disney princess here, a hand-rendered Mickey Mouse drinking a fruit juice there, new and old characters advertising various products and services, accompanied by the most well-executed fonts.
Nadia Hernandez’s latest suite of works gather from various realms of her life in much the same way as one moves through the streets of Latin America absorbing these images, retaining those sound bites.Each of Hernández’s works is a careful but often fragmentary annotation of quotes from conversations on a two-dimensional plane. Often these quotes are textual, often they are representations, and always they are spaces which host conversations caught half-way through their articulation and from across time, geographies and across political ideologies which have shaped history. The quotes come from various provenances; lovingly and poetically written letters from family in faraway Venezuela and the USA.
Nadia reads out quotes from various works in the series:
“Yo pinto por no matar”
(I paint so as not to kill)
“Prepárate el juicio de nuestro consuelo, de mi consuelo está cerca”
(Prepare yourself, the judgment of our consolation, my consolation is near)
“La tóxica mas chingona”
(The coolest of the most toxic women)
Some of these words are taken from T-shirts, some from books, and some from photographs of graffitied walls in Hernández’s home country Venezuela.
Visiting Hernández at her studio on a chilly Naarm evening, she takes me through the works for her solo exhibition at STATION. We jumped from subject to subject, guided by the multiple images in the works.Tweety bird is in a sandwich in one of the paintings. Not a quotation this time but in the artist’s visual language – a metaphor where characters come to represent situations and people in her life.
There are larger paintings, and as we chat my eyes trace a line that travels from one form to the other, pausing for a conversation, making meaning and tracing paths and memories in works larger than I have seen Hernández paint before. Alongside these works, there is one depicting the embrace of the AndesMountains engulfed in mist and guarding the other passages in the painting.
There is the work “Una serie de procesos mentales” (a series of mental processes) which quotes part of a text the artist found while reading. The full text is “The Latin American landscape cannot be rendered in an image, it is a series of mental processes” – a quote which Hernández reads to me out loud, and which applies perfectly to one particular work, where the composition moves and is guided by this haunting and faded, layered imagery. Some thoughts recede in order for others to come to the fore. This painting is the closest quotation to the muted palette of Venezuelan modernist artist Armando Reverón, whose work Hernández is also actively conversing with in these paintings. In this way, she locates her practice within an existing Venezuelan artistic dialogue. There are works such as “También siento la luz, también lasoledad” (I also feel the light, I also feel the solitude), which reflect in textual layering, perhaps, the life of Reverón, who lived alone in a palm shack by the sea for years with a set of life size muñecas (dolls), which he made to keep himself company. These words, however, also reflect the experience of conversing deeply with loved ones far away, as migrants so often do.
In Hernández’s work there is no nostalgia. These are not collections of isolated memories, but, as the artist herself describes it, “A collision of opposing moments in time, where both hope and critique are palpable in the spaces where the natural environment meets the words written on the walls.” In these visual spaces there are mountains – The Andes – enveloped in mist; embracing words; a comforting hug; and, as Hernández describes it, “la querencia”, the familial space of nurture where you gather your sense of strength. All the lines on the visual plane meeting and digressing. These timelines are not linear but loops and series of turns, always returning to humour and poetry. These works are conversations with times, places and people, and are in conversation with each other as artworks and with us as viewers.Inviting us to be perceptive and receptive in the way the artist relates to each moment; holding it and understanding it as part of something much, much bigger, and at the same time, very intimate.