The artist talks about the fragility that helped shape his ferocious new collection, which opens at Lindsay Gallery in the Short North on Saturday
Adam Hernandez is no stranger to building his own worlds.
As a child growing up in a rougher area of the Bronx, rather than engaging his G.I. Joes in mock battles, the painter and his two brothers would dress the figures in handcrafted costumes and act out epic imagined scenarios that incorporated hundreds of characters. His father, a college admissions officer who moonlighted as a party clown, fueled this sense of adventure, breaking apart figurines and reassembling them Frankenstein-like into entirely new creations.
Hernandez’s Land of Thunderbirds, a vast, invented and growing world in which his artwork exists, is rooted in these earliest childhood explorations, each of his completed series of paintings expanding further upon the mythic place.
In a late February interview, the artist described new collection, “Only Bangers,” which will be on display at Lindsay Gallery in the Short North beginning on Saturday, March 7, as akin to ferocious gods painted on the graffiti-strewn alley walls leading to the tomb of an ancient king. A previous, slightly more refined series of works, in contrast, he described as the artifacts that might exist inside the temple itself. “Almost as if I was an archaeologist who went to this mythical land of my imagination and stole these relics from the shrine,” he said.
Eventually, Hernandez plans to create narrative works that tell larger stories unfolding within the universe. “Right now, I’m just introducing characters,” he said, surrounded by colorful paintings of six-eyed tigers and ferocious cats in the basement studio of his Harrison West home."Only Bangers" is also a fine-print stipulation for anyone attending Hedonism. Sign up for our daily newsletter
The paintings for “Only Bangers,” a name Hernandez adopted for the show as a means of forcing himself to bring his A game to each piece — “It’s like we’re stepping up our game and it’s ‘only bangers’ this year,” he said, laughing — are all done on reclaimed wood, which can also have a story all its own. One piece is painted on a deconstructed illusion that Hernandez inherited from P3 Magic Theater, where he worked for years and still helps out on occasion. Another is done on a former children’s outdoor playhouse gifted by a friend.
“I first started [painting on wood] out of necessity, honestly,” said Hernandez, who traces his fondness for art through his bloodlines to his grandfather, an oil painter who regularly sketched New York residents during subway commutes, and whose sketches Hernandez keeps in a folder in his studio. “When I started painting, I was super broke, just working in restaurants around town. So I would buy canvases when I had money, but when I didn’t, I would just drive around campus when students would throw out furniture, and I would break down the shelving and paint on it. And it kind of became a thing.”
While Hernandez has for years crafted works set within the Land of Thunderbirds, buried within this imagined world exist deeper truths. Even the seemingly invented hieroglyphics forming the backdrop of several paintings in “Only Bangers” offer a deeper glimpse into Hernandez’s past. Such is the case with a series of brush strokes that collectively look like the markings one might find on the walls of an Egyptian tomb from a distance, but reveal a far more personal tale on closer inspection.
“If you look, you can see the [New York] cityscape here,” Hernandez said, gesturing to skyscraper-like markings and then moving rightward across the canvas, detailing the unfolding scene. “I was walking by a basketball court with dinner for my family, and these kids playing basketball came out and jumped me, which was almost a rite of passage in the Bronx, but I was super scared. And that happened when I was 14 or 15, and it really got in my head.”
While the artist said he long ago made peace with the incident, he incorporated it in the canvas as a way to encourage others who might be struggling with similar fears. These collected, sometimes painful memories purposely fade into the background of the canvases, each of which is dominated by a single, ferocious “godmask,” as Hernandez terms them — snarling, colorful, multi-eyed beasts that project strength and fearlessness.
“I haven’t always been the most confident person, and you can lose yourself a little bit when you put on one of the masks, almost as if you can channel the power of this creature,” Hernandez said. “I want to be careful with what I’m saying, because I’m not diagnosed with depression, in that regard, but I go through swings, and I’ve had times where I really beat myself down. In the last year, I’ve gone to therapy, and it’s been a life-changing thing, just adjusting my attitude and why I think the way I do. … These godmasks, I don’t always feel as fierce as they look, so it’s therapeutic. It lets me channel some of that fierceness. … It’s about self-empowerment.”