Self as my Great Great Grandfather

Isaac Hernandez, self-portrait as my Great Great Grandfather, oil pastel on paper, 2010 (in progress). 35.6×43.2cm (14″x17″).

Back in 2010 I started a self-portrait as my great great grandfather. My friend Bob Porter wrote a poem then. He came to visit again yesterday, and we decided to start a collaboration with poems and paintings.

Isaac Hernandez. Self as my great-grandfather, the Conde de Lipa. Oil pastel on paper, 2010-11.
Isaac Hernandez. Self as my Great Great Grandfather, the Conde de Lipa. Oil pastel on paper, 2010-11. 35.6×43.2cm (14″x17″).

It was 2011 before I could complete the drawing/painting, and before I could finally shave off the silly beard. It looked good on my ancestor, but not on me (and I couldn’t get the beard to curl on the sides like he did). Here’s Roberto’s poem:

©2010-13 Bob Porter

Out of the shadows
Like twin brothers, those eyes.
Visions of egalitarian turtle eggs
The taste of upright turkish coffee
The smell of onions, turmeric and coriander
In his dilapidated briefcase,
He carries an old, musty typewriter
He chews tobacco, from Georgia,
He carries a letter from Nietzsche, or is it de Tocqueville? carefully folded in his inner vest pocket
He dreams of revolution and Robespierre
Bonfires and barricades in the street
The sounds of gunfire and the sights of twisted lovers
But the eyes are not sure
And so he waits and watches
Longing for an answer
Or a clue…
Longing, longing…
Waiting, watching…

My great great grandfather, that’s my father’s great grandfather, was Polish. And he was also a pioneer photographer. He also had the title of Conde de Lipa and photographer to the Queen of Spain. I always thought it was a good story, but didn’t really gave it much importance. But over the last few weeks I’ve become obsessed with his life, researching why Captain Ludwik Tarszenski went to France and then on to Spain. It turns out he was some kind of war hero. But I’m not going to write more about him here. You can read about him in Wikipedia or in On with the show.

My box of good oil pastels is lost and I’ve been feeling anxious about it; I thought I was going to start biting my nails. Finally, I just went and bought a new one with the Art Essentials’ gift certificate I received for Christmas, from my friend who I gave the pig painting to. It was kind of weird synchronicity. I gave her oil pastels on paper and she gives me a paper worth oil pastels.

Finally, I had oil pastels. I was ready to paint/draw. We were also having a party with many guests, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. If I didn’t get my fingers dirty in oil pastels, I was going to go mad/der. I knew I had to entertain guests, so I did it the best way I could: they got to watch an artist at work. And some where inspired to create art. How great is that? At one point, I was retouching the painting, while Bob was writing the poem above, inspired by the painting, and Emma Jade was playing the piano.

Luis Tarszenski, Conde de Lipa, photographed by Amalia L. Lopez, one of his pupils.

I had the picture above on my phone’s screen while I painted the self-portrait, in order to keep a similar perspective and light, to inspire the mood, and to copy the suit. I also combed my hair to match Ludwik’s, but backwards (on the reflection of the mirror).

Even though I had a new box of oil pastels, I ended up painted with some left over colors I found: acid yellow and blue. I always try to use up all the colors in a box set; as I run out of my favorite colors, I use colors that normally I wouldn’t use, forcing me to try something new. I didn’t really want to paint it in black-and-white, because I tried those “colors” recently already, and I thought it would be boring to do the same thing again.

Since everybody says my paintings look like Van Gogh’s (I think they look like me, but I appreciate the compliments) I will bring up the painting that Vincent did of his mother from a photograph on view at the wonderful Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, and what he wrote to his brother, Theo: “I am doing a portrait of Mother for myself. I cannot stand the colorless photograph, and I am trying to do one in a harmony of color, as I see her in my memory.” This painting was in my mind as I drew myself as Conde de Lipa, but I hadn’t looked at it in years, until now. I didn’t remember the palette that Van Gogh used, but I remembered his words: “I cannot stand the colorless photograph.”



Isaac Hernandez. "Sunburn (self-portrait)". Gouache on paper, 2012. ©2012

Last week we celebrated the cast party for The Magical Seaweed with a barbeque that included a beach clean-up. I got a bit sunburn. It was the perfect opportunity to play with my son’s gouache paint set. Who knew gouache could be so much fun? I guess I did, but it had been a long time since the last time I played with gouache.