Adam Hernandez is plagued by demons.
When I met with the artist in mid-May at P3 Magic Theater, one winged creature posted above the door, while another stood sentinel on a P3 sign, an impish grin on its horned face.
The devilish creations are part of an elaborate mural Hernandez is currently painting within the Old North space – inspired by the demons that lurk in promotional posters for the Columbus-born Howard Thurston, a contemporary of Harry Houdini and for a time arguably the most famous magician in the world.
The project is just the latest public artwork undertaken by the prolific Hernandez, who has also created commissioned works on the walls inside of multiple Condado Tacos and on cans for Jackie O’s Brewery, all while continuing to advance his own practice. In the last year, Hernandez said, he’s started to create this work with greater intention, drawing more specific, purposeful reference from his Puerto Rican heritage.
When Hernandez began painting his ongoing series of God Masks, for example, his creations were more whimsical, vaguely informed by ancient masks but birthed almost wholesale from his imagination. More recent works, however, have taken more purposeful inspiration from the folkloric vejigante masks worn during Carnival in Puerto Rico, many of which incorporate horns.
“It’s still keeping it my own, but having a more specific reference point,” said Hernandez, whose evolution will be on display in ,” which opens at the Ohio State University Faculty Club on Friday, May 19.
Hernandez traced this “a-ha moment,” as he described it, to his experience creating public art for a new downtown hotel last year. After submitting a painting of Atabey, the goddess of freshwater and fertility, who appeared fully clothed and flanked by her two sons, Hernandez learned the piece had been rejected by curators as “not appropriate.” “I just felt like I was being used because of who I am as a person, and I think that happens to a lot of artists, where you become the token dark-skinned person on a panel or in a group show,” .
“I think that incident really challenged me to put my culture more out there,” he said. “I’d been doing these masks, and I don’t know why, but I’d never thought about the vejigantes, which are such a thing in Puerto Rico. So, I started messing with them, bringing in those elements. … I guess I do owe it to myself and the world to speak to things that matter to me and to carry on the tradition and expose people to these ideas. Even though I’m not doing traditional vejigantes, and I’m not painting them exactly how they looked, by pulling from that reference I’m able to add to the conversation, and I can point people to this tradition and this cool culture that maybe they didn’t know about.”
Growing up in a Christian home, Hernandez first experienced vejigante masks from a distance, which is part of what sparked an early intrigue in the form. “Because we weren’t allowed, it made them more enticing,” he said.
More recently, though, he’s pulled closer to the tradition, researching its multicultural roots, which blend African and Spanish elements with native Taino culture. In his own paintings, Hernandez takes this amalgamation a step further, introducing aspects of his own upbringing via his color palette and the abstracted graffiti elements that form the backdrop of some pieces – an artform he gravitated toward as a child in the Bronx.
For “Paintings from a New Mythology,” Hernandez has works that date from as far back as 2015, and he said he views the show as a summation of how his style has evolved to this point. In that way, the exhibit is also setting the stage for whatever comes next, with the artist describing himself as being at the precipice of something that is only now starting to take shape.
“Getting the paintings all together for the show, and seeing them there, it was crazy to see the growth,” Hernandez said. “But I kind of am viewing it as a last homage to that stage, where I’m coming up to another level and new ideas. I really want to keep pushing it even beyond this.”