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Maker’s Medium: Perry Hernandez works to create accessible art through oil painting

(Michael Vigman/Daily Bruin)

By David Egan

March 5, 2021 4:17 p.m.

The mastery of materials is fundamental to the artistic process and the career goal of any artist in their chosen medium. Every method requires a different skill set and can evoke different reactions in viewers. Follow columnist David Egan in “Maker’s Medium” as he highlights the mediums of the fine arts by profiling a different undergraduate art student each week.

(Cat Nordstrom/Daily Bruin)
(Cat Nordstrom/Daily Bruin)

Perry Hernandez has a painter’s plea: “Buy my art before I’m dead.”

As much as it is a salesman’s request, he said it is a commentary on the often unfortunate fate of artists who receive support for their work only after they’ve passed. The third-year art student said he has been looking for the balance between the art he sells on his website and the art he makes for school. Before enrolling at UCLA, Hernandez said he made art in high school and began taking it seriously in his junior year. Although the work he makes for classes and the work he makes for sale differ stylistically, he said there is consistency in his medium: oil paint.

“Oil painting is probably my go-to (medium),” Hernandez said. “I’m not a big fan of watercolor, … and I really hate using acrylic. … I really love how much depth and range of colors I’m able to get (with oil paint) and how smooth I can get a lot of the blending.”

Hernandez said he does not enjoy using acrylic paint because it dries too quickly. Oil paint, on the other hand, can take anywhere from a few days to months depending on how heavily it is applied, which he said allows for more time to render images. Made by dispersing pigments in oil, there is evidence of oil paint usage from at least the 12th century, with wide popularity in the Renaissance. But no matter the medium, Hernandez said he looks for balanced composition in his art.

[Related: Maker’s Medium: Francisco Garcia uses video art, structure variety to express emotional impact]

Two of his oil paintings, “Revenge of Jack” and “Go Fvck Yourself :),” exhibit this emphasis on eliminating excess empty space in the frame. In the first – a work shown at the 2021 Undergraduate Juried Exhibition – he added two eyes at the top of the canvas to balance out the bottom figure, which was adapted from a long exposure photo he took of himself illuminated by red lights in a pool. As indicated by the lifted white paint on the blue field in “Revenge of Jack,” Hernandez said he also likes working with different textures on a canvas. Rather than use a spatula, Hernandez said he used a hands-on method by running his gloved fingers through the paint. Regarding the content of the work, he said it is up for interpretation.

“It is up to the viewer to decide what they want to take away from it,” Hernandez said. “For some of my pieces, I generally don’t explain a lot of it, just because I think it’s interesting to see what people come up with and how they reinterpret the image. It’s up to the individual.”

The latter of the two pieces, “Go Fvck Yourself :),” was made as a midterm for a painting class, though it is also intended to be sold as postcards and prints. Looking to experiment with canvases and considering the aesthetic and commercial appeal, Hernandez stretched a Louis Vuitton print fabric on the canvas for the backdrop of the work. The two figures embracing are both Hernandez, giving the work its double-entendre title. A heart surrounds the figures evoking a doily – lace is an interesting material, Hernandez said, because it is the aesthetic of both lingerie and the elderly.

[Related: Maker’s Medium: Harlan Goldman-Belsma shares his view of the world through pen drawings]

The use of doppelgängers in “Go Fvck Yourself :),” as well as the genre of horror seen in the malefic eyes and fiery reds of “Revenge of Jack” are themes New Genres visiting faculty Marco Rios said Hernandez explored in video work for his class. Rios said Hernandez also employed the open-interpretation approach to talking about his art in New Genres, never wanting to force an idea upon the viewer.

“(His work) always was in this ambiguous state and he was very reluctant to pin it down to a fixed meaning,” Rios said. “(This) for me resonates personally. … It looked like what I was watching was (him) trying to work through an idea.”

Hernandez’s boyfriend Patrick Cleary said this open-interpretation approach is common in Hernandez’s work. In a recent conversation with Hernandez, Cleary said he noted that anyone who assigns meaning to the paintings is at best improvising, and any conclusion is merely the best guess of a viewer. Nonetheless, Cleary said it has been a struggle for Hernandez to see the value in his art, to the point where Hernandez will rip and destroy his paintings to reclaim agency over the work.

As Hernandez works on finding the value in his art, Cleary said another point of growth has been the balancing act between being compensated for his work and making it accessible to the public. Hernandez once offered to take $40 for a piece that took him at least 10 hours – which would be less than minimum wage, Cleary said. While Hernandez said he understands the art world’s appreciation of scarcity and that the stigma of selling art comes from the real risk of sell-out artists, he looks for ways to make art affordable while still being able to support himself financially.

But regardless of whether Hernandez is selling his work or showing it in a gallery, Cleary said making art provides Hernandez a certain sense of personal fulfillment.

“Give him a bunch of sticks or a pile of mud (and he will) express himself onto the world and make something beautiful,” Cleary said. ”That’s what he really wants – to make the world a more beautiful place for people.”

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