Local Artist is Inspired by Light and Shadow
Gary J. Hernandez Finds Personal And Artistic Success Creating Wonders Of Contemporary Realism
By Melanie Saxton / Photography by Gary J. Hernandez
The Woodlands area artist, Gary J. Hernandez, has found international recognition for his paintings that are done in the style called contemporary realism. He is a man who has always been artistically oriented, but grounded in reality.
Throughout his childhood in Victoria, Texas, he was introduced to classical artists in school. On his own initiative, he visited the local library to learn more and strived to duplicate the works of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. His art studies continued in high school, but he delayed a career as an artist due to the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood. The realities of providing for a young family took center stage.
Leap of Faith
It would take another decade before Hernandez became a full-time artist. “I’m a practical person,” he says. “I didn’t exactly know how to earn a living as an artist, so I worked full time for a sign company and took classes at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts School of Art, now known as the Glassell School of Art.” During this time he became influenced by the mid-19th century German painter Franz Winterhalter and the chiaroscuro (Italian for light and shadow) techniques of the Renaissance painters.
Hernandez eventually opened his own graphics design company. The business was a success, yet he wasn’t artistically fulfilled. With his sons Gary, Jr. and Tiziano (named for the Italian painter Titian) in private school, it became a personal and professional dilemma. In 1986 he and his wife, Josefa, made a monumental and difficult decision to sell the business — a leap of faith that ultimately propelled Hernandez into the realm of elite hyperrealist artists. He has never looked back.
According to Hernandez, professional artists must practice every day. Freed from the constraints of running a business, he could now devote himself full time to a realistic style of painting referred to as contemporary realism and focus on the figurative and representational art forms derived from real objects. His creations have been in national magazines, galleries and entered in juried competitions, and have been showcased in New York, New Mexico, Illinois, Massachusetts, Arizona, Connecticut, Kansas, and Florida, as well as the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston.
Hernandez is the proud grandfather of Andres, Ethan, Grayson and Paxton. “One grandson always chooses a red balloon on our trips to the grocery store,” says Hernandez. This inspired him to paint “My Red Balloon” to capture the look of wonderment all toddlers have when gazing at a balloon. Likewise, “Virgin of the Immaculate Conception after Murillo” was painted after seeing the artist’s famous Virgin paintings at the Prado Museum in Spain. Hernandez designed the work for a Christmas card collection; the third cherub from the left holding the wheat sheaves is his grandson, Andres.
Hernandez’ use of hyperrealism techniques enables him to create portraits that resemble high resolution photography. “A Warm Gaze” was featured in the Salon International 2011 at Greenhouse Gallery of Fine Art in San Antonio, one of the most prestigious and highly respected juried exhibitions. It was among 415 paintings selected from 1,163 entries representing 47 states, the District of Columbia and 13 additional countries. The painting was also featured at the 2013 International Guild of Realism’s member exhibition in Tempe, Arizona.
“Illumination,” “Incognito,” “Matador de Toros,” and “Virgin with the Host after Ingres” are additional examples of his award-winning technique. The detail is so stunning that fans of the art form often look twice, not quite believing they are viewing a painting rather than a photo.
Constantly on the lookout for his next floral subject, Hernandez spotted lilies with intoxicating yellow colors dancing all over the petals. This inspired “Lilies,” an oil-on-panel painting that evoked the summer sunshine from his youth. “I could already envision the palette needed to capture the beauty of this flower — Primrose Yellow against a pool of deep green,” recalls Hernandez. “I found the undulating ruffles on the edges of the petals intriguing, as they added a little playfulness to an otherwise regal setting. I couldn’t wait to get it on the easel.”
“Sunspots and Shadow” was his fourth in series of plein air (in the open air) works done in the Rienzi Gardens, which is part of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s building that houses European decorative arts and paintings. Hernandez set up his easel in the White Garden and was intrigued by the brilliant afternoon light as it cast sparkling spots and mottled shadows on the plants and walkway. It created a symphony of light and shadow. “I wanted to capture this magical light, if only for a moment, and have the viewer escape and join me in this brief moment of tranquility,” says Hernandez. The painting, like much of his work, was sold to a private collector.
“Fall Afternoon,” “Datura,” “Garden Satyr” and “Pumpkin” and “Orange Canna” also evoke natural elements and are a testament to Hernandez’ love of gardens.
Hernandez has traveled the globe and is often moved by international scenery. “Canal Scene-Venice, Italy” exemplifies both the global reach and the realism of his art. “The two statues first caught my attention, and I began to think of the many centuries they had stood and yet were simply part of the Venetian daily life,” Hernandez observes. The green moss growing along the steps and the greenish color of the still water were perfect ingredients for a great painting. Seeing the boat docked in the canal, he knew this was not only a beautiful picturesque scene, but also someone’s home. The building next door to the villa is the famous Ca’ D’Oro (Golden House) built in the 1400s, which has been open to the public since 1984 and houses a rich collection of artworks.
“Bridge of Sighs-Venice, Italy,” “A View From Rodin’s Garden-Paris, France” and “Fountain in Retiro Park-Madrid, Spain” are among Hernandez’ works that exemplify his love of travel. He hopes these pieces serve as inspiration for those who haven’t yet explored the world.
Hernandez also captures vivid Texas landscapes. “Cypress Creek in Autumn” is the second oil painting from a day trip to Wimberley, located in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. “The creek was pretty dry that day, but the view from the downtown bridge was still magnificent,” says Hernandez.
“Tennessee Sunset,” “Sunset at Lake Travis,” and “Schulenburg, Texas Back Road” are among his works of landscapes closer to home.
A “Hyper Local” Hyperrealist
Hernandez worked in Houston for decades and was encouraged by his sons to move to The Woodlands. Four years ago he and Josefa, now married 44 years, relocated to Spring. Because he didn’t have a mentor to help him transition from a business man to a full-time artist, he loves nothing more than helping aspiring artists in The Woodlands hone their craft. He is a gifted and patient teacher who believes in elevating the craft and is the principal instructor of The Gary J. Hernandez School of Fine Art. He also instructs at The Woodlands Art League (for which he is serving as interim vice president), Conroe Art League and in his art studio in Spring.
Learn more about Hernandez’ art classes, art galleries, workshops and demos at garyhernandezstudio.com. He has two rooms set up as galleries in his home, which allows clients to see what the artwork would look like inside their own homes.
Connect with the Artist
Prices for Hernandez’ work range from $500 to $13,000, depending upon the size and the complexity of the subject. His artwork is often commissioned by private individuals and is sold in galleries and at exhibitions.
The artist can be reached via email at email@example.com.