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Heliotrope, Like Hernández

LA Now Lecture Series

March 31 2020

Judith Hernández. Pacific Night. 2019. Glass mosaic gateway panel at western entrance of Santa Monica Expo Line. Photograph via artist's website.

I was very excited to speak with this woman as her artistic visions are breathtaking, and Santa Monica would not be the same without her influence.

This self-proclaimed “devil child” is the daughter of the “jack-of-all-trades” and is now known as a founding member of the Chicano Art/Los Angeles Mural movements. As a ten year member of the Los Four, Judithe Hernández has a myriad of talents. She grew up in Los Angeles with a mother from Texas and a father from Arizona. Hernández was born in Los Angeles in 1948 where the cultural dynamics were much more complicated than black and white. This very diverse upbringing was shared with her one brother. At school, “the kids from East LA were not the same kids on the west side of town.” To Hernández and the rest of the children at school there was no expectation their skin color was to match the faculty.

Per the Observer, Hernández joined the class of 1969 at Otis. As the only female Mexican student enrolled, she learned she must make her own way and with the help of Charles White, she did. As an African American “committed to the art of social-realism,” White was an influence to many. Here, Hernández began to find her home. She was a multitasker, like her mom, and was involved with numerous projects around the city.

Los Angeles Magazine highlighted Hernández’s murals through her efforts with the Citywide Mural Program. She paints her pride in, Homenaje a Las Mujeres de Aztla at the Ramona Gardens Housing Projects. Here is just one example of her tribute to her Mexican heritage. Although she believes “[she] only provides part of the story,” her paint blends peace into her community. The “idea of working collectively,” is seen in all aspects of her work.

In Karen Davalos’ interview in UCLA Oral History, she asks about the dioramas at California History Hall. Hernández describes viewing these dioramas as, “the volume alone was kind of almost spiritual.” She explains that as a curious child she “would stand there” and after awhile “the things would begin to move.”

I had a similar experience in 2016 while viewing the Expo Line Downtown Santa Monica. Astray on a surfing trip, I meandered under the symphony of pastels. Tapping into the depths of the night and the light of day, Hernández creates her own version of Kandinsky’s improvisations in, L.A. Sonata. To me, similar to the muralist, it was like, “walking into the past.” Now, no longer “faceless,” her figures claim their culture with pride.

She created each stepping stone for herself and is now an accomplished woman. Although her mother said what she did was “not art” and tasked her with staying occupied with “flowers or something,” Hernández actively approaches the art world with aptitude and attitude.

Balancing the chaotic world of choosing to support gender and racially motivated movements, Hernández makes her choice clear as she prioritizes “[her] community before [her] own needs.”

“If you can’t say what you mean, you will never mean what you say.”

-Hernández on her mother

Judith Hernández. La Reina Del Norte. 2003. Museum Installation. Wood, plaster cast, wire net, nails. Provenance. Reflections of the Soul - Day of the Dead 2003, National Museum of Mexican Art, Chicago, IL.

Read her poem paired (and painted) with this exhibition here:

El Norte
Download PDF • 83KB

Description of public art commission via her words (on her website) below.

"The twenty-four individual glass mosaic panels designed for the EXPO LINE Downtown Santa Monica Station form an outdoor art gallery collectively known as L.A. Sonata. The imagery was inspired by the world cultures that have come to Los Angeles and shaped its distinct international character. The images trace the passage of the Day and the Seasons, much like the musical movements of a symphony. They describe the journey and the passage of time in a remix of the cultural icons, colors, and patterns inspired by the city's cultural diversity. Each panel stands alone as a visual memory and together they tell the story of a great city poised at the 'edge of the continent.' The station opened to the public May 20, 2016." One panel pictured in the first image (top of the page).

Learn about Charles White and his Students

(More on White)

Charles W. White (1918-1979). Negro U.S.A, 1949. Print of graphite drawing. 14 x 9 in. Brooklyn Museum.


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