Miguel Hernández launched his artistic career at the age of 7, inspired and taught by the members of his family in Santa Bárbara, Heredia. Admitted to the school of art at the National University (UNA) at the age of 15, he became the first-ever UNA student to obtain an undergraduate degree in fine arts, and then earned his Master’s at the Pratt Institute in New York on a Fulbright scholarship.
Today, this UNA professor, 54, is known for work that combines the human figure and nature and explores the concept of metamorphosis. Through the use of smoke he has achieved his signature style, influenced by Michelangelo, Goya and Bacon. His work has been exhibited in countries all over the world, from Ecuador and Peru to Germany and the United States.
The Tico Times sat down with the artist at his home in Heredia. Excerpts follow:
TT: Why did you choose to be an artist? What motivated you?
MH: In my case, it was something I was born with. I had cousins and uncles who were self-taught in drawing. My uncle, don Gerardo, lived in a house where you could see the magnificent sunsets, and he painted them beautifully. When I was a boy I would finish school and go to his house to watch him paint. That motivated me. I’m not really a painter; I’m more of a thinker about shapes and graphics. I didn’t know the life of a painter could be so interesting. It requires you to know about a whole bunch of things. You have to read a lot about philosophy, history, poetry, music, … all of this creates a very rich education. We are all artists, but sometimes the idea of working in an office kills our [inner] artist. I am absolutely privileged.
What does art mean to you?
Art is learning: getting a grasp on how to live. Art is what transcends the vulgar, the mediocre. That can be achieved through a painting or an attitude towards everything that surrounds you. The art is the pursuit of the truth. Picasso said, “Art is a lie that tells truth.” Art is an interior truth. When I paint I can be either very honest or a liar. When am I a liar? When I paint what I think people might like in order to sell my work.
What is the meaning of the smoke in your artworks?
In paintings throughout history, at least in the Renaissance portraits, a candle is present. This candle’s symbolism is life. If the person portrayed was halfway through his life, the candle would also be halfway through. These painters were emphasizing what we are, and that life is a dream and it goes by too fast. The candle itself has that ephemeral sense of the volatile.
Here, the technique and essence of my work come together perfectly. I’ve always searched for the idea of the metamorphosis or transformation. I’ve been able to achieve it through the use of the smoke. Metamorphosis means to change into something beyond what we have. This means that when you die, you don’t die. You transform into other energies.
What defines a good piece of artwork?
It never ends; it always has its own mystery that draws your attention. An average piece of art, on the other hand, ends quickly. The work’s technique and its capacity to communicate what the artist is trying to transmit are the factors that make it valuable. It must have technique and essence. If it really is good and heartfelt, the art transcends space and time. It will still draw people’s attention. When the artist is alive, its charm and mystery is lost. [Laughs.]
What has been the key to your success?
Success in art, life, and the profession that you practice consists of enjoying what you do. When you work, what is it that you do? You sell your time, and what is time? Life. I would be really unhappy if I were working on something that I don’t like. Shakespeare said that the secret to success is to do what you enjoy the most. In my case, I can’t be better! I don’t envy the great athletes because I think I am in a superior world! [Laughs.] It’s all in the mind, right? The secret is to enjoy and love what you are doing. If you find the pleasure in it, everything comes out naturally.
Read other “Weekend Arts Spotlight” interviews here.
Our “Weekend Arts Spotlight” presents Sunday interviews with artists who are from, working in, or inspired by Costa Rica, ranging from writers and actors to dancers and musicians. Do you know of an artist we should consider, whether a long-time favorite or an up-and-comer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.