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Affordable Art Fair
Interviews - 06 March 2019

Meet Artist Mónica Hernández

Monica Hernandez, image courtesy of the artist and Ali MittonAt Affordable Art Fair New York, we believe in supporting emerging artists and curators within the contemporary art community – and it is this belief that led us to create the Young Talent Exhibition which returns as a key feature at our spring fair (28 – 31 March). Taking part this year is New York-based artist, Mónica Hernández, who will showcase her thought-provoking oil-on-canvas works which explore the female figure and the power of the female gaze, AND will participate in an artists talk, taking place on the Sunday of the fair. Always looking to challenge how women represent themselves, Hernández is certainly one to watch as a breakout emerging artist, with 103K followers on Instagram and recently named as one of the 30 under 35 in CULTURED for 2019. She graduated from Hunter College with a BFA in 2017.

We sat down with Mónica to chat about the upcoming Young Talent Exhibition and her busy life as a young artist making it in New York City.

Young Talent Exhibition Artist Mónica Hernández

 

You were born in the Dominican Republic and moved to New York with your family when you were six years old. How does your heritage inform your art?

Monica Hernandez, I want a house, 2018, oil on canvasBeing a Dominican immigrant living in NYC has affected me greatly, and it informs my work in ways I didn’t realize at first. I didn’t even fully process what emotional effects coming here at a young age had on me until recently. My parents have worked extremely hard their entire lives and have sacrificed a lot for me and my two siblings. So, coming from the five of us staying with six other family members in a two bedroom apartment for the first couple months we were in America, to now, my parents owning a home is something that inspires me deeply.

Making the works I have been making now for some years, the first trace of my heritage I channeled unknowingly was the warm palette. My mom has always decorated our home with Dominican landscapes and fruit still-life’s, and my dad always painted the walls in warm yellows and browns, all that found its way into my work while I was still fleshing out my visual language. My family has also always been very artistic, from music to the visual arts. My aunt Rosa Tavarez is a famous Dominican painter and even without having direct contact with her while I’ve been painting, the way she paints the body and her color choices, I find many connections with my own work. Also outside of color, just the immigrant experience---the strange feeling of displacement and never belonging, and the pressures of a Dominican culture that is on one had beautiful and rich and on the other complex and backwards in its relation to sex, sexuality, religion, and blackness---has affected my personal life and the relationship I have to myself. All this finds its way into my paintings in ways that I am constantly exploring.

 

At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to become a painter?

I always made art growing up, it was in my family, my mom and brother would make paintings and drawings, so I picked up on that too. But life gets in the way and the pressures to work to support a family took the priority off of creativity. There were a lot of efforts to deter me from choosing art as a life path just out of fear of a life instability which is very common when you’re a low-income and an immigrant. I would teach myself to draw from tutorials online while in middle school. Then I went to a science high school where my art teacher pushed me to keep drawing and creating despite the pressures at home. Then college came, and I tried my hand at a psychology degree. I gave that up quickly and decided to take art classes and instantly school became so much more enjoyable. In college is where I decided I wanted to be an artist in whatever capacity. I explored many mediums and always kept coming back to painting. It has been around four years now, and painting is still difficult but very fulfilling.

 

Your paintings most often depict women who are comfortable in their skin, in their homes and often, the woman represented is you. Frequently women, and men alike, struggle to find that level comfort with their own bodies, which is what draws many people to your work. What keeps bringing you back to this motif? What does it mean to highlight yourself in a work versus someone else?

Monica Hernandez, Moonlight 3, 2019, Oil on canvasInterestingly, I don’t seek to directly render myself. I don’t see my work as autobiographical necessarily, I just always end up making work that in many ways can be that, but that tends to be a product of just drawing from what I know. When starting a new painting, specifically for my larger works, throughout most of that process I am focused on composition, my goal is to make an image that communicates certain things but the only way I can successfully do that is by having a solid visual foundation to build on. After that I start making connections, or narratives, I start to see myself or things that have affected me pop up. I find that when I start with a definitive idea of a concept or a story, then try and tailor all the imagery around that, the painting isn’t successful, feels too rigid or contrived. The work tends to be very direct and literal at times with its themes but my headspace going into it is often more open, I think my influences are stronger than I’ve yet to unpack, so they find their ways into the work. The more work I make though, the older I get, the more I talk about it, the more I am able to express myself in my work. But for the last few years it has been a strange sort of stumbling across these themes. The motifs I use are a part of my language, of my life.

 

You graduated in 2017 with a BFA from Hunter College. Since 2017, it seems that your life has become incredibly busy: ARTFORUM took note of you, Cultured highlighted you in their "30 Under 35 2019" list, you've collaborated with Nike and modeled for Thinx. How do you balance your time in the studio and the daily hustle?

Monica Hernandez, image courtesy of the artist and Ali MittonIt’s definitely a balance that I’m still figuring out. My studio practice is not where I want it to be. My work with brands is amazing because I am booked as myself, not just as an anonymous model for the clothing but an individual and they value who I am. That is really cool because growing up, big brands never highlighted people that were outside of the norm. It helps me a lot, I am able to sustain myself and my practice and be a positive influence for others, but it definitely takes up a lot of my time. Art for me is the long game, it’s something that I will be doing for as long as I am on this planet, so even when I am not directly making work, just sitting in my studio feeds into my future work. I am still working it all out though. Hopefully I can increase how much work I produce this year, without feeling as burnt out as I often do.

 

You have an impressive 104k followers on Instagram. Your account @monicagreatgal is refreshingly honest, fun and challenges the status quo on social media. In an interview with Cultured, you stated that you treat your Instagram account "like its own art piece." Can you tell us more about what you're trying to do on Instagram and the effect Instagram has had on your career?

Monica Hernandez, Moonlight 4, 2019, oil on canvasI’ve been posting on Instagram since 2014. It’s been a space where I’ve explored who I am, found a community of people that I relate to and support me, and also have been able to share my work. It’s a platform where you can curate your profile to show who you are or what you want to be perceived as. That has always interested me because we’ve always been fed images of what the ideal life is through movies, advertisements, etc. but now we can create our own image of what our life is and broadcast that to those that choose to follow us. I talk about my insecurities, my fears, my successes, my experiences, my life, as a way to connect, to release, and to help. It has been a lot of different things throughout the years, I’ve documented a lot of different phases of my life, work, and interests. I’ve been able to be influence others to question their perceptions of the human body. Instagram has helped my career a lot. For modeling, it has allowed major brands to find me directly without needing agencies which are super exclusive of anyone that doesn’t fit their body requirements. For art, it has allowed me to connect with people who appreciate my work, who want to buy it, want to include it in a show, want to see it.

 

Who is your favorite painter and what is your favorite painting?

This is a tough question, but probably who I think is the most helpful for me is Kerry James Marshall. My favorite painting though is probably Andrea Mantegna’s “The Lamentation over the Dead Christ” 1480, just the foreshortening of the figure is really funny and weird. I think about it often in terms of how seriously somber it is but also helplessly wonky, I relate a lot to it.


Discover Mónica’s work in the Inspiration Lounge on Level 1 and join us for an engaging talk with Mónica and Drew Beattie, Director of the Kossak Painting Program and Distinguished Lecturer at Hunter College, on Saturday, March 30, 12:30pm-1:30pm.

 

 

Main Image:
Monica Hernandez, Moonlight 4, 2019, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 in, $1200, image courtesy of the artist.

Featured art from first to last:
Photograph of Monica Hernandez, image courtesy of the artist and Ali Mitton.
Monica Hernandez, I want a house, 2018, oil on canvas, 48 x 72 in, image courtesy of the artist.
Monica Hernandez, Moonlight 3, 2019, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 in, $1200, image courtesy of the artist.
Photograph of Monica Hernandez, image courtesy of the artist and Ali Mitton.
Monica Hernandez, Moonlight 4, 2019, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 in, $1200, image courtesy of the artist.

 

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