"The concept that exists in Mexican culture of death not as something tragic, but as something inherent in us, that exists—that remains reason for celebration," Daniel Hernández says.
Admittedly, there's a language barrier between me and the printmaker from Oaxaca, Mexico, but he has a good point. The fear of death, or the casting of it as a terrifying and ruthlessly unavoidable
ugliness, is a largely Anglo-Saxon concept. Hernández instead celebrates it—life, too—in his wood and linocuts, prints of which he'll show at Hecho a Mano's upcoming show Querida Mortem (roughly, Dear Death) at Iconik Coffee Roasters' Guadalupe Street location.
Hernández picked up a degree in visual and plastic arts at the Benito Juárez Autonomous University of Oaxaca School of Fine Arts. He's also shown at Mexico's Biennial of Graphic Arts Shinzaburo Takeda and the Instituto Cultural Peruano Norteamericano Printmaking Biennial in Santiago, Chile. Not too shabby for a 20-something; Hernández clearly has a gift.
For the uninitiated, and though Hernández also works in woodcut and painting, let us look at the humble linocut as an example. An artist starts with a rough sketch directly on a piece of linoleum. They then carve a relief image into the lino; an impression is then made on paper or whatever other medium the artist chooses. In Hernández' case, such carvings almost invariably depict the well-known markers and imagery of death: skulls and black birds, leafless trees, rotting animal corpses or skeletal remains, bleached and bare.
Each cut in the lino is permanent, allowing little room for error, and the artist makes use of a bevy of cutting and chiseling tools. It's a grueling process for anyone, but what's particularly notable about Hernández' work is the attention to the smallest details. Some pieces recall the fine linework of an illustrator like Edward Gorey, others resemble tattoo flash if only skin were able to accommodate as many lines as ink on paper can. Each is brimming with subtext and symbolism.
Take 2017's "Santuario Postmortem," wherein a bird seems to be stealing a flame from a candle. A halo of human teeth surrounds the piece as if our perspective places us inside a mouth, someplace near the jaw; below and outside the main frame, a death's-head hawkmoth spreads its wings, though lines nearby may hint that the moth itself is dead and ready to be pinned. Birds are common in Hernández' work, and there's a rather occult-ish feel to a wide swath of their
appearances (though this could be chalked up to my very American sense of death). Fish appear regularly as well, displayed in all of their scaly, wriggly glory, represented realistically. Hundreds of hours must go into the prep and execution, but it's still fun for Hernández.
"I enjoy the part of the carving a lot; it mainly takes time to conceive the idea and the symbolic elements that will compose it," he says, adding that it's also a form of catharsis from the day-to day. "The political and social events that happen every day in the place where I am from intervene wildly with all its inhabitants," he says, "and art is a means that allows us to talk about it."
And we could have just as easily
never heard of him. According to Querida Mortem curator Frank Rose, formerly of form & concept, he happened upon Hernández by coincidence during a trip to Oaxaca last year.
"There's a vibrant printmaking scene down there, and I saw [Hernández' work] in one of the many printmaking workshops that're all over Oaxaca City," Rose says. "It was really by happenstance."
Though Querida Mortem is taking place at Iconik, Rose is taking over the former Beals & Co. space at 830 Canyon Road with his new gallery Hecho a Mano in the coming weeks.
"When I decided to go out on my own, I wanted to make printmaking a big part of what I'm doing," Rose says. "Printmaking in general doesn't always get a lot of attention, even though it's such an involved process. Because it's a 'popular' medium, or maybe because it's easy to reproduce, because it can be more affordable than a painting, it's … funny how accessibility can make people take it less seriously."
Rose further says that he hopes Hernández and Querida Mortem might be the start of more printmaking exhibits around Santa Fe. At best, they're a fairly rare occurrence.
As for Hernández, he's just happy to be involved.
"The idea is to be able to reach many more people," he says, "and to show that the graphic is a simple medium, but that great things can be done."
Daniel Hernández: Querida Mortem
6-8 pm Friday Feb. 8. Free.
Iconik Coffee Roasters (Lupe Location),
314 S Guadalupe St.,