Looking At Me Looking At You by Tony Hernandez considers the artist’s pain, loss, and relentless pursuit
to reinvent. Over the past three years, Hernandez has undergone multiple surgeries to manage his
chronic pain. These experiences often left him powerless, much like the children in his paintings whose
lives are shaped by decisions they had no say in. Through such warfare, a new language surfaces,
making space for wild imagination. It is indelible in the intricate and complex scenes he captures–a
crowned, masked child crossing his arms in protest; a red dunce-capped child gazing at a bird on the
wall, envisioning freedom. Hernandez posits viewers to enter the paintings’ landscapes and consider the
much-debated question, how do we regard the pain of others, especially those who are most vulnerable?
The works’ use of myriad materials and techniques—300-pound Arches paper, graphite pencils, water
pens, ink, colored pencils, gouache, beeswax, and damar resin—creates paintings that are visually
simple yet emotionally resonant. One must look at each piece closely to examine the red stitches that
carry from one to the next. And another: the motif of the surgical mask, which has been present in
Hernandez’s work for years. This constant merging of materials is as if to say, You see me one way, but I
am actually another way, reverberating the silent proclamations of his subjects.
Hernandez’s artistic practice emphatically personifies the expansive terrain of the human experience. He
delves deep into the emotions and experiences of children, examining how they must confront their
limitations in the face of authority and societal expectations. In turn, Hernandez reflects on his own
childhood struggles with agency and identity. He often felt masked by his inability to speak the language
of his Hispanic grandparents. And as a Brown child growing up in the South, he felt disconnected from the
culture surrounding him. However, over time Hernandez has embraced painting as his first language.
With this new language comes the inevitable transformation. As Hernandez invites viewers to confront
their pain and vulnerability, he reminds them that the sublime is there, too. And in finding it, there is the
chance to encounter transcendence and, through it, a new chapter.