Our February collections, New (Master)Pieces and The Art of Personal Style, celebrate art in a bright, vivacious way. We hand-selected several artists and chatted with them about their art, love of color and personal style. Liz Hernández plays with color in her paintings to tell stories and share traditions in an avant-garde way. She is currently based in Oakland, California and recently wrapped up an exhibition, Provisions, at pt.2 Gallery. We chatted with Liz about her relationship with color in her art and personal style.
BR: What role does color play in your art?
Color has always played a big role in my work, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized the reason why. A couple of years ago, my art was a lot less colorful. I used a very limited palette and would have never imagined myself using the bright colors I use now. However, I have always been aware of the hidden meanings of color. Color can be used as a way to make direct references to places, cultures and traditions.
To me, every color has a story, and I use it as a method to communicate these hidden meanings. For my most recent show Provisions, a duo exhibition with Ryan Whelan, I focused on using a particular hue of hot pink. For some it was just a loud color, perhaps it looked like a random aesthetic choice, but my decision to present this color in the paintings was very intentional. The vibrant pink I used is similar to a color native to Central and South America that was obtained from cochineal–a small beetle that lives on prickly pear cacti–to make dye since pre-Hispanic times. The insect became more valuable than gold, and the color was reserved for dyeing clothing for royalty. It also happens to be the official color of Mexico City, and is often referred to as rosa mexicano. It is seen around the city on walls and signage, so I wanted this color to tell the story directly to the people who share this connection with the color.
BR: Describe your creative process.
My process is a hybrid of fine art and design. I usually get an idea stuck in my head. Then I’ll start sketching, slowly trying to figure out what I am trying to say, why this specific image or idea is so interesting to me, and I’ll ask myself what is happening around me that is pushing me into exploring it. I try to find books, videos or anything related to the initial thought as I start my research. After that, I begin playing with composition. As a rule, I always start drawing with a black pencil–I don’t usually like to get distracted thinking about color right away. I trace the initial sketch over and over until I get the right composition, a process I adopted while studying product design. I have traced the same image up to 20 times before I get it to the point where I am happy with the composition. Later, I will get into production mode and stretch my canvases, prepare brushes and trace the image onto the canvas. Mixing colors happens near the very end of this process. Even though I have a good eye for color, I keep formulas and am very particular about matching them. Then, I’ll begin painting–my favorite part!
BR: Do your artistic tastes, such as your love of bright color, translate into your wardrobe?
I used to only wear black, and I did that for most of my life. I’m not sure why, but I always felt elegant, powerful and ready to tackle anything when wearing all black. Nowadays, I’ll feel inclined to use more color in my wardrobe, and I think the more familiar I got with mixing paint and working with color, I became more aware of the power that colors possess. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m a walking rainbow, but I do like to play with colors and prints to make a statement. You can also occasionally catch me wearing all white!
BR: Where do you find creative inspiration?
Most of the time, my inspiration comes from memories, but it can also come from the monotony of everyday life. Depending on what is going on around me, I can get into working with very intimate themes like immigration and identity that I will explore over longer spans of time. Sometimes, I will get into very mundane things that I just want to draw because I have seen these things around me—things like plants, chairs or pottery. I usually explore these ideas for fun and in a shorter amount of time without feeling pressured.
There are so many things I want to explore, so many ways of making an image, so why would I limit myself to one way?”
BR: Living a life with no boundaries is a huge part of our DNA. How do you continue to push boundaries within your art?
I have had people ask me why I don’t have a very specific style, and this was something that made me feel insecure and limited. I believe my lack of “established style” comes from me embracing the possibilities that exist within what I know I am capable of doing. My interests are always evolving, and a style I was using earlier may not quite work with what I am doing now. I have learned to embrace this change in both my subject matter and my style. There are so many things I want to explore, so many ways of making an image, so why would I limit myself to one way? At the end of the day, it is the same eyes and hands making it happen, and the end result will inevitably show that.
BR: What’s your favorite color to work with, and what is your favorite color to wear?
Because my palette and subject matter are always evolving, I will get obsessed with one color and then move on and explore another. That approach can be seen in my work, but I also experience it in my wardrobe. Right now my favorite color to work with is pink, specifically Mexican pink (rosa mexicano). I have to admit that when I was working on my Provisions show, I wore a little too much pink! Since the beginning of winter, I have been drawn to brown and emerald green clothing.
BR: An item in your wardrobe you can’t live without and why?
A perfectly worn-in pair of vintage high-waisted jeans and old school sneakers. I like timeless items: pieces that have existed forever and with a design that hasn’t changed much over the years. These two pieces have been part of most of the stages of my life. I have worn them both since I was a little punk in high school, and I am confident I’ll be wearing these as a grandma.
BR: You have creative freedom when it comes to getting dressed for work. Do you find yourself exercising your creative muscle when you get dressed, or do you resort to uniform-style dressing?
I used to be into the idea of wearing a “uniform,” and for a little while, I was really into just wearing a few select pieces and sticking to neutrals. After a few months, I got really bored of doing that, and I felt like I was missing something. I am sure the uniform outfit method works for other creatives—and I totally get that—but personally, I felt like it prioritized efficiency and productivity over creativity and self-expression. Sometimes I see people who rock the uniform, and they do it so well that it’s clear to me that it is intrinsic to their personal style and not just a way to save time. I don’t wear really wild things nor do I have a huge closet, but I do enjoy spending time thinking about the image I present to the world through my outfit. My creativity bleeds into other parts of my life, definitely including my wardrobe.
BR: What is your proudest artistic moment so far?
Every time that I get to show my work to people and they tell me they can connect to my art is a proud moment. A lot of times, I would never feel connected with art I saw in galleries or museums, so when someone comes up to me and tells me they can relate to my work, I feel so proud and motivated to keep doing what I’m doing. Whenever I see someone who looks like me tell me that they are happy I make art, I understand the value of representation. Every opportunity I have to show up in places and institutions where we often feel like we do not belong are my proudest artistic moments.