Liz Hernández (b. 1993) is a Mexican artist based in Oakland, California, who works primarily with topics related to her upbringing. Inspired by the magical realism movement in Latin America, she uses imagery from memories of living in Mexico City, adopting supernatural elements and symbolism to address modern life subjects. Hernández’s practice focuses on painting and sculpture, and, most recently, murals. She has exhibited work in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Mexico City.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you made?
I painted a jacket with symbols of protection and good luck. At the time I was working on this project, I was also planning a big mural for SFMOMA. With all of what had been going on since the beginning of 2020, my focus was already on ideas of healing and protection. I felt a little lost, hurt, and I desperately wanted to feel safe, calm, and hopeful. While researching amulets and rituals, I kept thinking about my grandmother who is a very spiritual woman. She is always wearing amulets on her neck and clothes, and I felt very inspired by her while making the jacket. I love that the act of wearing a symbol can be powerful and can offer us a sense of safety. With the mural, I was able to see these symbols and text come together on a wall and on a big scale, which was impactful. With the jacket, I wanted to bring some of those symbols closer to my body, and I wondered how must it feel to wear them and feel the weight they carry.
When did you begin illustrating and painting? What do you like about it?
I’ve always liked making art, but never really took it seriously. I went to college and got a degree in Industrial Design, and it wasn’t until 2015 when my boyfriend at the time (who is my husband now!) pushed me to try it. We would hang out and draw together with no real intentions of it being serious, just something to enjoy together. A year later, we suddenly got invited to have an art show together at Good Mother Gallery in Oakland, and that’s when I started to develop an art practice. As cliché as it sounds, making art is very therapeutic for me. It allows me to process thoughts and emotions through making. It also offers me an opportunity to tell stories, which surprisingly resonated with people of very different backgrounds. That was something I never expected. I am so grateful to be able to make art, and even if no one ever saw it, I’d still be making it, because it truly comforts me and helps me navigate the world.
Have you always worked with clothing and textiles, or is this a new medium for you? What about it do you like?
I did, but that was many years ago! I wanted to make some textile patterns to paint on my clothes, so I partnered with a boutique in Berkeley that wanted to collaborate on some clothing. We made three different prints on dresses that turned out great. They were all handpainted!
This time it was different because I approached the jacket with a more conceptual vision which made it more difficult. I had to be more intentional with the symbols and words I was using. The images in the jacket were more detailed than the ones on the dresses I made, and painting them was harder. I like that art can be experienced by wearing it, and it is not confined to a wall or pedestal. Creating wearable art also offers a more accessible way to own art, and that is something I want to explore more.
What is it about iconography, talismans, and amulets that inspired you to begin illustrating them?
I have always been intrigued by rituals and magic. Growing up in Mexico, all of these things were not considered too out of the ordinary. Perhaps it was just more present in my family, but I think the connection to rituals is more present in Mexican culture than in American culture. I find it very inspiring how simple objects and images can become powerful by simply believing they are. I am also inspired by events that are beyond rational explanations. They are exciting to me because they serve as a reminder of how humans cannot control everything. It reminds us of how small we are in comparison to other greater forces like nature, for example. Sometimes we think we know it all, that there’s always a logical reason for everything, but when unexplainable things happen, it reminds us of how small we are.
You’re based in Oakland now. Do you still get to visit Mexico City often?
I used to visit way more often, spending a good portion of the year at my parents’ house, but now I don’t do it as much as I’d like to. I have not been able to visit Mexico City for over a year now due to the pandemic, but I am planning on going as soon as I’m able to travel again. I do want to spend more time with my family and spend more time in a place that is still very important to me. I miss it now more than ever.
Is there something happening right now in creative culture that you’re most excited about?
I love that everything happening in the art world was forced to slow down. For many years, things were moving way too fast, and now we are realizing that maybe that isn’t a good thing. For too long, creative labor has been abused and not valued enough. I am hoping we learn from what we are going through! I wanna believe that we as artists and creatives are becoming more intentional and shifting into a more sustainable way to create.