Emerging Artist | Gary Hernandez

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

Monika's Red Lily, oil, 14 x 11.

Texas-based painter Gary J. Hernandez had a very good year in 2011. For starters, Hernandez was a finalist in the portrait and figurative category in The Artist’s Magazine’s annual art competition. He also took home an honorable mention for his painting A WARM GAZE at the Salon International juried show, which took place at Greenhouse Gallery of Fine Art in San Antonio, TX. Another painting, a vibrant still life titled LILIES, was on view at museums across the country as part of a traveling exhibition organized by the International Guild of Realism.

“His art represents everyday people, places, and things. And he knows how to capture the beauty in them,” says Michael Chmiel, who has represented Hernandez for five years at Jack Meier Gallery in Houston.

As far back as second grade, Hernandez wanted to be an artist. He recalls that about that time, his class took a field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. While the other students ran around having fun, he was looking at the artworks. Throughout his elementary school days, teachers were encouraging and frequently singled him out to illustrate various holidays with colored chalk on the blackboard. “I was labeled early on as the class artist,” he says. “The teachers gave me pictures to copy, and I did everything from nativity scenes to pumpkins.”

In high school, his teachers continued to encourage his artistic talents. But after graduation he accepted a job as a graphic designer for a Houston sign company. Eventually, with a wife and a child on the way, he put any thoughts of becoming a fine artist on hold.

One day in 1976, his brother-in-law recommended he enroll in classes at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts School of Art (now called the Glassell School of Art). “It was a traditional school back then, and they really pushed realism,” Hernandez says. For several years he took painting and drawing classes while working more than 50 hours a week.

In 1981 he established his own graphic-design firm, and it flourished. But he arrived at a turning point in 1986, when he realized that while the firm was successful, dreams of becoming a fine artist were slipping away. “I realized that if I continued building the company, I would never become an artist. I would be so indebted to the company that I wouldn’t be able to pull out because I would have employees with mortgages who are dependent on me.”

At that time he also remembered some words of advice a friend had given years earlier. “He told me that all this stuff I was [designing] was temporary,” Hernandez recalls. “But if I make art, people will possess it for a lifetime. They will keep it and pass it on from one generation to the next. Art lasts forever.”

In 1986 Hernandez sold his company, and ever since then he has pursued a full-time career in fine art and teaching. These days he describes his style as realism with a penchant for employing the chiaroscuro techniques of the Renaissance painters he so admires. Although Hernandez is a master of the landscape and still-life genres, it is figurative art that really speaks to him. “What has always attracted me to creating figurative art is that I feel a greater sense of fulfillment compared to painting landscapes or still lifes,” Hernandez says. “Figurative art provides me with so many more possibilities of expressing myself. For me, the human figure is the perfect vehicle for me to connect with my audience.”

When thinking about what it is he is trying to convey in his works, he says, “I have so much passion and enthusiasm for my work. I want to try and put that across with every element I can employ, so that the view can feel what I feel. If I do that, I will have succeeded.”

As for the future, Hernandez says his goal is to paint more figurative work. “I have ideas that I want to play with and work with to see where they take me,” he says. “I think it’s an adventure.”

Jack Meier Gallery, Houston, TX; Hilliard Gallery, Kansas City, MO; www.garyhernandezstudio.com.