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Arts & Culture

Sergio Hernandez woodcuts display deft straddling of worlds



Comercio de Añil, woodcut, 2011

Small works under glass line the walls of the exhibition's first room, their deft lines and bold pools of dark colors laid down with a sure hand. Several pieces depict the bullfight, an honored Spanish theme. But the unexpected intrudes — the bullring teams with too many combatants, opposed armies of bulls and toreadors mingle in conflict. Now adjusted to the presence of a dreamworld, the viewer is yet left unprepared for entering the second chamber. Massive sheets of black filled with twisting and dashed white lines form dark flurries at a distance; up close, tumults of overlapping figures swarm like half-held memories of nightmares.

"Funámbulo De La Noche" (Tightrope Walker of the Night), recent works by Sergio Hernández at Instituto Cultural de México, presents 38 pieces from the last decade, including 13 large woodcuts made in 2011 at the famed Cuernavaca workshop, La Siempre Habana. To explain the cooperative nature of the process, curator Patricia Tovar Alvarez writes, "The artist is an orchestrator that creates harmony and takes the piece to its final, blunt realization, producing a community work." A video accompanying the exhibition shows the intense labor of many hands needed to produce a large print. Hernández lays down the intricate design of the woodcut, in this case made with sheets of MDF, a composite core material. Then assistants with chisels and power tools help cut away the areas that will remain un-inked. Finally, two sets of hands are needed to carefully remove the paper from the block without smudging the print. Set to the sounds of classical music, the video shows work pacing calmly in light-filled rooms.

Other sorts of light emerge in the large (about six feet by three feet) dark woodcut prints that fill the second room. In Tifón, myriad teardrop shapes seem to describe the rush of water in the midst of a hurricane; seen from a distance, the boundaries of representation and abstraction blur as subtle patterns of light play among the repetitive, almost-random, marks. But most prevalent are pieces like Caligrafia Nocturna (Nocturnal Calligraphy), a black, white-lined piece, and its blue version, Comercio de Añil (Indigo Trade), scenes of oneiric night in which constellations of skirt-wearing fish, severed heads, maniacal clowns, skulls, and dice roll through an ocean sky. Step back, and the figures recede, becoming starry gestures in what Alvarez calls "a visual calligraphy of the night."

Born in 1957 in the town of Santa María Xochixtlapilco, near Huajuapan de León in the Sierra Mixteca of Oaxaca, Mexico, Hernández studied art at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and La Esmeralda, the National Fine Arts Institute. Learning the art of engraving at the Paris workshop of Peter Bramsen, he has also produced paintings, mosaic murals, sculpture, and vases that mix contemporary urges with elements of his own Mixteca heritage. Though often compared to fellow Oaxacan artist Francisco Toledo, Hernández prefers comparison to Mexican cartoonist, illustrator, and printmaker José Guadalupe Posada (1852–1913), whom he cites as an influence. He has exhibited throughout Mexico and abroad, including Berlin, Chicago, New York, and Saitama, Japan. The exhibition's title, "Funámbulo De La Noche" (Tightrope Walker of the Night), may refer to a story about Hernández's grandfather who "perished in a vat of burning oil while fooling around drunk on the tightrope of a circus that visited his Oaxacan village," according to several online sources. But funámbulo can also be used to refer to someone who negotiates difficult social conditions. With not only Toledo but the legendary Rufino Tamayo (1889-1991) better known as representatives of Oaxaca outside of Mexico, Hernández still has a difficult route to navigate. The small works on view at the Instituto lack the necessary punch, but his new massive woodcuts may help light the path.

Sergio Hernández: Funámbulo De La Noche

10am-6pm Tue-Fri, 11am-6pm Sat, 10am-5pm Sun
Instituto Cultural de México en San Antonio
600 Hemisfair Park
(210) 227-0123
On view through August 22

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