ANAMARIO HERNÁNDEZ, THE FORCE OF FRAGILITY
By Gregorio Luke
“…we live only to discover beauty..." Kahlil Gibran
“I tried to find beauty there where I had never imagined before that it could exist, in the most
ordinary things, in the profundities of still life.” Marcel Proust
It is difficult to imagine a more auspicious beginning to an artistic career than that of Anamario Hernández. After her first individual exhibit in Mexico City’s Casa del Lago in 1974, the country’s greatest critics celebrated her work with unusual excitement and the kind of praise usually reserved for mature artists.
Antonio Rodríguez affirmed that, “… in her luminous, silently musical paintings, space was clean, full of life, and time flows leaving the mark of eternity.”¹ Raquel Tibol admired her, “poetic, subtle, melancholic atmospheres.”² Henrique González Casanova wrote that she, “...revealed the naked singularity of things, their essential traits and that in her paintings, full of emotion but ruled by intelligence, she had found the force of fragility.” ³ But perhaps the most impressive was Rafael Solana’s review, “…the perfection of her brushstrokes and the austerity of her compositions left us with the same impression of clarity, simplicity and purity that one feels after reading a page of Santa Teresa.”⁴
The comparison with Santa Teresa, the 16th century mystic poet would be prophetic. Like her, Anamario Hernández would follow a solitary path. Instead of capitalizing on her early success in the public arena, Anamario left Mexico to live abroad, where she focused on her painting, slowly maturing its visual language and technique. Quietly working in a sequestered environment, she looked within to find an inner contemplation. With self-concentration, she quietly found her voice, creating a visual universe entirely of her own. Her world of the still life examines secular domestic objects harnessed with a sacred spirit.
The seeds of Anamario Hernández’s art were planted early. At the age of 6, she received her first set of oil paints from her mother. Her father Agustín Hernández, a distinguished architect, nourished her dedication through his works and his understanding of space, scale and light. “I have memories,” she would recall,”of seeing him working with his models, playing with the light, to see how light influenced the interiors, Since childhood I have been exposed to art as a way of living.” ⁵Anamario vividly recollects a family excursion to the Mayan ruins were she drew the three-dimensional planes and volumes of its monumental edifices.
Her fascination with objects was early inspired during her childhood playing amongst the dramatic costumes and scenery props of her famous Aunt Amalia Hernández, the Founder and Director of the Ballet Folklórico de México, which were stored in her grandmother’s large and dark basement. “For me it was magical to enter that room, a mixture of curiosity and fear.”⁶
Anamario Hernández is an autodidactic artist, mentored only by Robin Bond, a British artist who provided elementary instruction and the Mexican modern master, Ricardo Martínez who guided her learning. Like her father, Ricardo Martinez taught by example. “He never lectured me on what to paint, he inspired me and encouraged me to experiment and develop my own style.”⁷
THE LIFE OF OBJECTS
In Mexico there exists a veneration of the object where often they become personal relics, akin to colonial time reliquary pieces of saints and sanctuaries. Objects evoke memories and function within the realm of a symbolic language. When Anamario Hernández left Mexico, she relied upon the essence of memory and imagination of the object’s significance from this past world to act as her muse and inspirational source. “Every object I represent evokes an experience, a dream, a story.” ⁸ Purple rebozos which appear in her works are reminders of her mother who often twisted purple strings between her fingers. Seashells symbolize youthful summers by the ocean; spiky husks of walnuts represent the joy and pain of romantic love and fertility.
Her art is populated with beautiful bottles, little vases, bowls, shells, fruits, rocks, trinkets and boxes, and white and blue porcelain dishes. Hernández paints these objects again and again, within still-life scenarios of draped table tops, cabinet niches, and open windows refracting light. With remarkable consistency Anamario Hernández depicts her objects with a sincerity of dimensional depth transmitting a mystical wisdom. Art critic Mireya Folch affirms: “…Like magic, she transforms the simplest of things and gives them new meaning.”⁹
PAINTING FROM IMAGINATION
In contrast with most still-life artists, Anamario’s objects are not directly painted from real-life models. “My objective is to paint from my imagination. The objects and colors I use do not necessarily reflect reality.”¹⁰ Anamario’s work is not to be representational; instead her works are to be metaphors for people and places of her memories. Everything is invented, especially the light sources that charge the object’s shadows and infuse their displacement of space. Their momentary and solitary nature reflects an ephemeral existence born from her imagination.
“Her paintings are landscapes of memory,” affirms Anamari Gomis, “…although the items she paints are dissimilar among themselves, they unite in an expressive concert on the canvas, like a breath.” In this tightly controlled universe, meaning is conveyed indirectly, in subtle ways. “Not a single object touches another… in this way each describes the isolation of separated and untouchable people.” ¹¹ Her compositional construction of the object acquires a certain surreal quality. Although independently existing as benign objects, their juxtaposition and formal execution often provide a disquieting sensation reminiscent of the Metaphysical School of early 20th Century painting by Giorgio de Chirico.
A PLACE IN THE ART WORLD
Anamario Hernández’s consistent artistry has opened doors and garnered significant recognition. In addition to Washington DC and Mexico City, she has presented individual exhibits in New York, Milan and Paris. President Bill Clinton had one of her paintings for years in Camp David. Eduard J. Sullivan, the US leading Latin American art scholar wrote about her admiring the, “classical calm, dignity and monumentality” of her work. More importantly, he places her in a larger historical art context when he states that ”Ana Mario has entered a dialogue with all her fellow still life painters, from the Spanish Golden age to the post-impressionist period. She challenges herself by looking at their works and doing completely new unique interpretations.” Sullivan concludes that “in a way one could declare her work radical in its faithful adherence to tradition, on one hand, and the powerful expression of unique individuality of expression on the other.”¹²
CONTINUITY AND TRANSFORMATION
Because of Anamario Hernández consistency in themes and style, it is easy to overlook the permanent evolution of her work. The first major change was the inclusion of windows in her paintings, where she contrasts still life with real life in a quest to reestablish equilibrium between her outer and inner worlds.
From an emotional point of view, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 had a dramatic impact. Anamario was shaken and unable to paint for months “All my paintings try to be harmonious now I wanted to disturb that harmony…” ¹³ The result was a series that captures a sense of tension and unease. The objects are the same, but there is now a subversive element, weight has shifted and become unstable, or the string sustaining objects is frayed and about to break.
The current exhibition at the Mexican Cultural Institute is one of her most ambitious. It includes: still lifes, landscapes, seascapes, dry point engravings, portraits, sculptures, jewelry, objects, videos and an installation.
This new exhibit includes several beautiful still lifes, but there is one piece MEDITATION, where the objects have completely disappeared we only see an empty chair by an open window.
For the first time she has fully incorporated the human figure, this had happened very rarely in the past. In EYES a human face glances at us through a broken canvas. In TIGHT a sensual female body is about to burst from the confinement of a corset. Among the many innovations, the artist reveals for the first time her artistic process in DIALOGUE NOT STILL in which two paintings are accompanied by digital videos. By far the most surprising piece is an INSTALLATION in which the silhouettes of a man and a woman project their shadows over a video of the ocean filmed by the artist. This is the first time that Anamario has collaborated with another artist, Marcos Galvany, who in addition of participating in the artistic process and the post-production, composed the music for the piece.
This current exhibit reveals an artist in peak form, secure in her style and ideas but open to experimentation and artistic adventure.
1 Rodríguez, Antonio, Casa del Lago Mexico DF, 1974
2 Tibol, Raquel, Mexico DF, 1974
3 González Casanova, Henrrique, Casa del Lago, México DF, 1 de July, 1974
4 Solana, Rafael, El Universal, México DF, April 12, 1976
5,6 In AnaMario´s words, Catalogue Where Does the Silence Drift, Mexican Cultural Intitute, Washington DC, USA Sept-Nov 2000Institute, New York City, Mexican Cultural Institute, Washington DC. 1997-1998
7 Verbanas, Patti, Emerging Artists, Art and Antiques USA, Nov. 2002
8 Morril, Jennifer, The News, USA, Nov 3, 2000
9 Folch, Mireya
10 In AnaMario´s words, Catalogue Where Does the Silence Drift, Mexican Cultural Intitute, Washington DC,
11 Anamari Gomiz
12 Sullivan, J Edward, The tranquil Image: Recent works by Ana Mario Hernandez,
Catalogue Where Does the Silence Drift, Mexican Cultural Institute, Washington DC, USA Sept-Nov. 2000
13 Verbanas, Patti, Emerging Artists, Art and Antiques USA, Nov. 2002