“Tableaux de la memoire”
Confronted by the work of self-taught still life painter Anamario Hernandez ones is surrounded by both a feeling of familiar comfort and the anxiety that accompanies a visceral sense of loss. Her paintings, which develop out ofa variety of still life traditions, play with the representation of objects-bottles, little vases, bowls, shells, trinkets, blue and white porcelain and traditional boxes called alhajero- items that surround Hernandez in her Bethesda, Maryland studio. Though independently they exist as benign domestic and studio objects, their juxtaposition and formal execution often provide a disquieting sensation. Like a de Chirico painting that deals with the familiar and strange, Hernandez’ still lifes offer both, visual pleasure and contemplation.
As in traditional still life, Hernandez concentrates on inanimate matter often including a flower or a fruit here and there. But these are not the overflowing, abundant displays seen in seventeenth century Dutch still lifes paintings nor are these Cézanne’s apples. Isolated objects sometimes fill the canvas offering a vision similar to that of the late sixteenth/early century Spanish still life painter Juan Sanchez Cotan. However, Hernández’ well constructed paintings can be linked more to the work of the French Purist, Amedee Ozanfant and Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, otherwise known as Le Corbusier. Like their images of objects reduced to strict and “pure” formal geometries, Hernandez’ paintings bestow a meticulous realism that is somewhat abstracted. As in the French artist paintings, Hernandez objects are highly ordered. Yet unlike the rigid and antiseptic vision of the Purist, Hernandez combines a series of contradictions to display her own brand of hard-edged yet soft, serene yet unnerving muted yet colorful paintings.
Another contradiction lies in the fact that these formal paintings are not exactly studies from nature. Hernandez work combines studio studies with her own visual memory. While these paintings are manifestation of a personal imagery, the overwhelming sense is that the artist has closely observed these objects. Paying careful attention to precise formal values such as shadows, light and volume, Hernandez reveals her strong architectural bent learned through the influence of her architect father, Agustin Hernandez.
In her conceptualization of space Hernandez paints still lifes as objects lessons. Yet each of these contains its own narrative. Each object is imbued with a sense of life experience and personal memory. Repeating this imagery over and over, Hernandez paintings are almost fetishistic in their obsessive display, manifesting an intimately personal and almost magical world of boxes that keep secrets.
Anamario Hernández paintings reveal physiological meanings through the choice to either opens up or constrict the composition. A more liberated feeling is achieved through such still lifes as “Paisaje de la Memoria” where the landscape is integrated through a view out the artist’s studio into luscious greenery. Her compositions vary. Sometimes objects can be dispersed across the canvas as in Scattered Still Life wherein seed pods from a maple tree, an alhajero , a vase with a flower and other pottery are spread out across a tile ground—seen from an odd angle both straight on and from above. As such. Hernandez manipulates perspective and collapses figure and ground to achieve unsettling effects.
Often many objects are contained within one small space and fill the frame, as seen in the painting Toys and Boxes. Other times items are compartmentalized. In the same manner the nineteenth century Mexican self –taught painter Hermenegildo Bustos arranged his tropical fruits across the canvas like scientific illustrations. Hernandez painting Niche approaches a taxonomic representation. Different types of vases and containers are compressed within an otherwise sparse niche. The formal manner of representation of objects on display within a niche resembles a medicine cabinet but idiosyncrasies of the objects themselves create a scene reminiscent of a home altar. Works such as this one also call to mind Maria Izquierdo’s cupboard paintings known as Alacenas. However, while Izquierdo’s Alacenas are evocative of a more festive attitude and represent traditional Mexican domestic altars, Hernández ‘ still lifes are meant to call to mind such traditional and popular scenes without directly representing them. The overriding sense of nostalgia also prohibits any overtly celebratory reading.
Often the still lifes reveal simple environments, a wooden table covered by a white linen table cloth. Other paintings display objects sitting lovingly embraced by the twist of a traditional Mexican rebozo ( a long scarf worn by Indian women to cover themselves and often utilized to carry babies) as in the Rebozo de Bolita’ and Ribbon. Thus, traditional elements and motifs are referred to without ever being the focus of attention. Their meanings become woven into the larger narrative of time, loss, and nostalgia these paintings represent.
Anamario Hernández is a collector, a gatherer of those precious items which in painted form emit a quasi-sacred quality. Delicately and lovingly arranged, they represent a life the artist carries with herself wherever her travels might take her. Leaving her homeland, Mexico, twenty years ago, the forty seven year old artist has lived in Paris, New York, Geneva, London and most recently has settled in the Washington D.C. area for the past fifteen years. The iconography of objects that have stayed with her through her travels signifies a certain amount of rootedness and stability in an otherwise changing world and provides the artist with a sense od psychological belonging. Meanwhile, Hernández paintings offer us a glimpse into an enchanted and metaphysical world.
Anna Indych, New York City November, 1997