The vivid paintings of Brussels-based artist Alejandra Hernandez

Brussels-based Alejandra Hernández’s vibrantly coloured and fantastical paintings caught our attention at Rodolphe Janssen‘s recently opened group show Balls & Glory. Defying perspective, the Bogotan artist’s riveting mythologies teem with lively and warm colours, with her surrealist subjects reminding us of her role models like Talita Hoffman, Henry Rousseau and Diego Rivera. Here, we take a closer look at her portfolio and put a few questions to the emerging artist.

What were your original ideas and intentions when you started working on this new series?

I began this series (Keep My Treasures Where I Can See Them) last summer after I had gotten a MFA. For about six months I didn’t have a studio. As I’m used to working on large formats, such as oil on canvas, which I couldn’t do at home, so I was getting quite desperate. I thought about making some sketches for future paintings. I started with the painting “The girl and the three spiritual beings” and as soon as I was done, I realized I could never repeat that image, it was already “outworn” so to speak, so I continued with new images following the idea of depicting certain animals I was curious about. For me, the animals could help to read the image differently ­– kind of like creating my own mythology. On the other hand, the female figure is always present, interacting with the creatures. There is no hierarchy between human and animal and there’s always a playful situation going on that can become scary or unsettling. Also, most of my images deal with a sense of ambiguity. I really enjoyed using this small format and acrylic – it was a very introspective process and I became very patient while working on it, which is unusual for me. Each painting took about three or four days to complete. I’m still working on some of them.

the girl and the three spiritual beings_Acryl on paper_Alejandra Hernández_2014

What would you say was its starting point?

The starting point was when I realized the power a small format could have, and the quickness of working with acrylic, as you can add so many layers and it dries very fast. As I said before, it took one image to have things ‘click’ – after that, I just kept going.

Is there something very specific you’re hoping the series will express/communicate?

All I hope is that every image will make the viewer wonder, think about what is behind it and create their own narratives. There is no specific tale I want to tell, the symbolic meaning of the work can be repositioned anytime, and it certainly will be, depending on the background and experiences of the viewer. However, I do like the idea of the harmony/tension between the female figure and the animals, how a hierarchy of power can be disturbed and how the roles of master/creature are rethought. I happen to be female, so I filter it all through my own experience and through the many influences coming from this image-fueled world.

Heart shaped_Acryl on paper_Alejandra Hernández_2015 copy

Can you talk to us about your approach in general?

I would say I have three different approaches at the moment, but they are all related to the bi-dimensional, the figurative and the narrative. I also work in series. On the one hand, I make oil paintings on canvas: during the previous year and a half I’ve been working on a series of portraits in which I either visit or invite someone I know (usually women) to my studio and ask them to bring certain objects that are meaningful to them in any way – either aesthetically, sentimentally or whatever. I also ask the women to think about what they’re going to wear, so in a way they are their own art director. After that, the process is very intuitive and immediate. We go through different sessions and get to know each other, using the media as an excuse for real interaction. I like to work from real life, as opposed to from photos, at least for this series in particular. On the other hand, I draw, which to me is like writing. I make a series of loose and fast drawings that don’t require much time. I like using different media; either ink, acrylic, charcoal or pencil, because they help to get my ideas flowing and to give my brain a rest from all the thought that needs to be put in working on oil paintings. A third approach would be the kind of series which I’m showing for this report, and which for me sits between the two others. My hope is that these three approaches will start intertwining and that I can start to blur the limits I have set up for myself.

Day & Night_Acryl on paper_Alejandra Hernández_2015

How would you say this series fits in with your wider body of work?

It’s like going back to older oil paintings I was doing in 2012, 2013. At that time, I was working with more oneiric and fantasy-oriented scenes. I got a bit too much into my own head, and that’s when I switched to portraits. But I realized that I still felt a need to connect to my intimate thoughts and the scenes I kept seeing in dreams. I feel that in my work there is always a sense of things not being quite right, of things being a bit displaced. I don’t like to follow rules, except for the rules I make for myself. For example, perspective is not my friend, neither is anatomical correctness, so I learned how to paint in a very intuitive way, which is far from what they can teach at a classical academy. As for my choice of subjects, I’m very interested in depicting a sense of un-sureness, of unbalance. I definitely don’t like to tell people the whole story, because it ruins the joke for everybody. I like for the viewer to play with it and do a little work.

picnic_Acryl on paper_Alejandra Hernández_2015 copy

Can you talk to us about how you see your own work? How would you describe it?

I see my work as an outcome of all the things I love and the incredible amount of images I consume. I like to think of it as the burst that comes out of my brain after my head has (either consciously or unconsciously) filtered it all and spills it out in the form of an image. I’ve been experimenting with ways of showing my work and mixing and overlapping my different approaches. I had the chance of doing so in a solo exhibition in the gallery I work with, Galleria La Veronica in Modica, Sicily. The exhibition was titled “Keep my treasures where I can see them” and I showed most of the series shown here. I also created a whole environment including a wall drawing, a pink wall with text on it and an installation of another series of drawings on a display table. There I could finally see how all my work somehow fits together even if sometimes I don’t immediately see the link. My work is also a way of asking fundamental questions I come up with at different stages of my life, it’s a way to understand the world around me and relate to others.

What is your preferred medium for exhibiting your work? Book? Solo show? Group exhibition?

I don’t really have a preferred medium for exhibiting, I think each meadium allows me to explore different ways of displaying and understanding my work. A solo exhibition enables me to make sure works function within their own universe. It can set a point of departure or points of intersection between certain works. I experimented a bit with printed media and I’m still very interested in creating my own books. Because some of my work is so narrative and somehow illustrates very specific situations, I often think of it as something that could easily be compiled in a book. Then again, a group exhibition is a great opportunity to put the work in a wider context and to relate it to other types of practices.

Whale_Acryl on paper_Alejandra Hernández_2015 copy

Who would you say was instrumental in shaping your work?

There have been many influences and helpers along the way. For example, during my bachelor years I had a professor named Gabriel Silva, an amazing painter and ceramist from Colombia, who helped me explore different approaches to painting. Whenever I was blocked, he showed me ways of taking risks and finding new paths to keep going. There have also been some key artists who helped me shape the way I work and understand art, such as Louise Burgeois, Elisabeth Peyton, Henry Darger, Matisse, Manet, Raymond Pettibon, Alice Neel, Talita Hoffman, Tracy Emin, Henry Rousseau, Diego Rivera and many many others. My partner Carlos Alfonso, who’s also an artist, has been a huge support. We shared a studio for a while and I could definitely see how we both started to influence each other in some ways. I caught on to the energetic way he worked and I’ve been trying to keep that rhythm ever since.

All images courtesy of Alejandra Hernández
Balls & Glory 
Until 13th February 2016
Rodolphe Janssen Gallery, Brussels