“I want my work to talk silently but forcefully about human dignity, about what we need to do to reach that dignity in everybody, to give people the message that they are valuable, their life is valuable; it is never not valuable.”
Robert Hernandez was born in Shreveport, Louisiana and moved with his family to the San Francisco Bay Area at a very early age. It was in this setting that he grew up “making things, reading and drawing.” He received his B.A. in the activist milieu of San Francisco State in the seventies and completed his MFA at Mills College a few years later.
Hernandez’s early abstract sculpture was composed of elegant free-form corrugated board reliefs covered with lead foil. These geometric sculptures or constructions sprawled over the walls like islands detached from a map, yet established a very sculptural presence.
Next, he exhibited large-scale canvases marked with sparse but energetic calligraphic lines of vibrant pastel, pencil and oil stick on a flat acrylic ground. These were considered dreamlike and visionary. What at first seem to be abstract markings could be deciphered into archetypal and other images related to Mexican culture. The referential shapes and abstractions alluded to narration or story-telling. Large six by eight foot drawings on black canvas, with mark-making inspired by the work of the late Cy Twombly were created and shown in the eighties.
In 1992-94 Hernandez began making his combine paintings, which referenced both Johns and Rauschenberg in remaking their images: flags, goats, targets, eagles, chairs, etc. In 2004, he started constructing his collaged resin paintings. As Hernandez says, “In collage, the materials are endless.” With scavenged objects, he constructs paintings that exhibit a craftsmanly accomplishment with extremely strong compositions and decipherable meanings.
Hernandez states that “everything comes from the written word.” Many of his artworks have been inspired by a word or phrase. He combines these with images that give the viewer a historical perspective as well as a glimpse into current events and the artist’s “take” on it all. His art speaks about the iconography of the culture as well as the politics of our times, not unlike another hero, Francisco Goya, did with “Los Caprichos” series, which served as an enlightened critique of 18th-century Spain and humanity in general.
Anne Brodzky, curator and Director of the Meridian Gallery in San Francisco, wrote in the catalog for the Wood ‘N Water exhibition in 1995, “Robert Hernandez is an artist who works from massive outrage, but outrage tempered with compassion.”
Hernandez’s work has been shown in solo exhibitions at Patricia Correia Gallery, Los Angeles, Meridian Gallery, San Francisco, Kirk DeGooyer Gallery, Los Angeles as well as the William Sawyer Gallery in San Francisco. His work has been included in exhibitions in Mexico City, Germany, Holland, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Oakland Museum.