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.”


Happy and Sad

Isaac Hernández, Self-portrait, oil pastel on paper, 2010.

I’ve been drawing self-portraits for many years. It’s funny, because I don’t look at myself in the mirror very much, other than when I’m drawing a self-portrait. There are many days when I don’t look at myself in the mirror at all. After all, if you don’t shave or comb your hair, you don’t need a mirror. You can wash your face, floss and brush teeth without seeing you.

When I paint a self-portrait, the person in the mirror is a stranger. And since painting occurs very much as meditation for me, that person is often pensive. And those thoughts looks different every time. I’d like to capture silly emotions all the time, but do you know how difficult is to keep a big smile while looking at yourself in the mirror for hours? And with no make up! I invite you to try it.

Some people have given me a hard time for painting myself sad all the time. To them, I dedicate the self-portrait above. What can I say. I’m a happy guy. And I’m a sad guy. I treasure all emotions. I’m happy I’m sad. I couldn’t have painted myself happy without painting myself sad first, see below. Because if we were happy all the time, we would be bored from happiness.

Both portraits are still in progress. I guess everything is always in progress. When it’s over, you die. I’ve tweaked the one on the bottom several times, correcting different elements to make the forced perspective from down below work. Thanks to Libby Smith, who I had as a teacher, it’s easy for me to see what’s wrong in a face, mostly my face. Yes, I know, Libby, the ears need to move a bit lower still and the left eye (the eye on the left which also happens to be my left eye, since it’s a reflection) still needs more work. And the right could use some adjustments too. But I ran out of yellow. I painted until the oil pastel was the size of a grain of rice. I’ll get some more yellow, and I’ll continue working on it once I shave. I will come back to this blog and add the dimensions. Suffice to say that the sad golden portrait below is at least four times larger than the happy blue portrait above. What does it all mean?

Isaac Hernández, Self-portrait, oil pastel on paper, 2010.

Self-portrait in Yellow

Isaac Hernandez. Self-portrait (Untitled) 2011, gicleé print, 10″x10″. ©2012 Isaac Hernandez

I painted this large self-portrait, the largest so far, some time in the Spring of 2011, and continued onto the Summer. I was exploring with the idea of making a happy painting with a serious face.

Happy colors. Sad face. Kind of like the make-up I got as a kid at Circus World. The make-up artist asked me if I wanted to have happy clown or sad clown face.  When I answered sad, she was really worried and tried to convince me otherwise. Why did she even asked? I think I was the only sad clown in Circus World that day. My brother and sister were both happy clowns. Why did I pick sad? I guess I’ve always had certain curiosity for sadness. If it had happened today, I’d probably have the FBI investigating me. :); or shall I say :(

The picture above, taken in April, is not the final version. This yellow painting became the main attraction at my solo exhibit of 12 self-portraits, “I’m Not My Face”, which hanged at Roy’s during the month of June, receiving rave reviews. Soon we’ll be launching “I’m Not My Face: 40 Years of Self-Portraits”, the book.

Isaac Hernandez. Self-portrait (Untitled), (painting detail) 2011. ©2012 Isaac Hernandez
It’s big. There are two giant yellow Senelier oil pastel sticks layered onto the paper.
Isaac Hernandez. Self-portrait (Untitled) 2011, gicleé print, 10″x10″. ©2012 Isaac Hernandez
How I love to get my fingers dirty. The Senelier oil pastels are especially sticky, yum!