Featured Artist/Traveler - Ana María Hernando
Artist Ana María Hernando’s world straddles many realms - her upbringing in Buenos Aires, at a politically turbulent time, surrounded by a close knit family of women supporting each other while doing “women’s work” - all of this has shaped the intimacy of Ana María’s multi media works.
Hi Ana María, your life and work are so rich and layered, how did your early years impact your creative life?
Growing up in Buenos Aires, my family was very close and always supportive of each other. My father loved history, and my mother liked to paint and loved the arts, so they often took us to museums. With my grandparents nearby, my grandmothers were always at the house - all the women would sew, knit, talk while we children were doing homework - and it was all very nurturing. This would become a strong foundation of the artwork I would do many years later.
Also, because all of my grandparents were from Spain, the European connection was very strong and we would go to Spain sometimes.
I understand in 1976 there was a coup d’etat that changed everything in Argentina. How did that affect you and your family?
Yes, I was in my early teens. Those were violent times, even before the coup. There were a series of dictatorships one after the other that were incredibly oppressive, and many people went into exile, or disappeared, or were killed. Sometimes schools would shut down. And of course the arts were completely suppressed. We had to be careful when going out, but as a child you think - “this is life” and you start to adjust to it.
But we didn’t know the extent of the violence until afterward because the press was very controlled. It was hard to know who were the bad guys, etc. Dictators controlled your reality, it was very dangerous.
Also, politics made it very difficult to pursue the arts - my parents were afraid, and so they opposed my interest in being an artist. I wasn’t sure if it would be possible, even though it was my dream from an early age. But I was still committed to my art, and though I studied other things, I kept making art.
Coming to America changed that for you, how did it allow you to pursue art?
I came to the United States when my new husband was at Berkeley. I went to the California College of the Arts and finished there my art degree with the help of my parents and afterwards a full scholarship. When we graduated, my husband got a job at MIT in Boston. We lived there for 5 years, and had our 3 kids. I had a great studio, lots of artist friends, started to grow as an artist. I liked it.
But I was surprised at the lack of intimacy in this country, that people didn’t have relationships to things and in between themselves in the same way as in Argentina- it was a very throwaway culture. This also found it’s way into my work.
At that point we wanted a different lifestyle so moved to Colorado. We liked Boulder for it’s contemporary art museum, etc. But by the time I came to Boulder, I did it on my own with my children as we had decided to divorce. At first I didn’t know anyone so I was very experimental and it helped me find my own voice.
How did you manage juggling a family with your creative practice?
it was hard, I worked a lot. I always wanted kids, but the message was if you want to do anything in the art world, forget about kids. But I’m stubborn and wanted both! Many times it was a struggle, I’d be deeply in my work and I’d get calls from school “I don’t feel good”, so I’d have to rearrange everything. It takes a lot of perseverance, but that time with my kids was as important as my work.
And also, living your truth is good guidance for your children to trust their own path.
Yes, and now, all of my kids have become artists. It can be a challenging profession, but I know they can do it!
Your work often takes a feminist point of view. Talk more about that.
I began to see that the everyday work made by women - all the hand crafts, especially with textiles that my grandmothers were doing - that it wasn’t acknowledged or valued. I was starting to work embroidery into my art when I was invited to be in an exhibition about “Work”, so I decided to focus on women’s work, which is so often in the background - beautiful but invisible.
In 2001, during all the civil unrest, my mother helped me approach a group of cloistered nuns that embroidered in Argentina. One of the nuns had a sister who had a workshop for women embroiderers, so between the nuns and the workshop, they helped me create pieces that I have since included in installations.
There seems to always be an underpinning of spiritual intention and focus in your work. How has that evolved over the years?
In particular, my spiritual focus is related to the natural world. In 2005 I began working with a group of Andean women weavers in Peru, who are very earth-focused in all that they do. Their work is so interwoven with spirit and prayer, the cosmology, nature. I connect deeply with that perspective.
For many years I also translated for a teacher - Don Américo Yábar, whose spiritual teachings have had a profound affect on me. I learned that words are meaningful and have weight, they express culture, color, quietness - all of it. I live between cultures and languages so this liberated me and my work.
I first became aware of you after seeing your large floral paintings. They are bold, graphic and intimate at the same time. When did that focus emerge?
When I first moved to Colorado there was little time in the studio with small kids and I was now a single mother. I lost the thread and wasn’t sure what to do going forward.
I was given a book about flowers and insects and how they come together and then go their own way. It felt like a good metaphor and I fell in love with them flowers- their lines, structure. I only painted one flower at a time - there was an intimacy that way. I was always taking photos of flowers, and wanted to paint them again and again. I never painted people, so flowers became my people. I see them as individuals, objects of impermanence moving in the breeze and shining for a brief time.
Many of your flowers are in pinks and reds and more “feminine” colors, but I also find your black monochrome paintings particularly powerful. What inspired that series?
After painting with more naturalistic colors, I was spending a lot of time in Peru. I was so inspired by their cosmology - how they were completely immersed in nature. And how there was a complete lack of light at night - the dark paintings emerged from that time. I was thinking about what happens to color in the night. At night there is no separation, it requires a quietness, and tuning into what is around you.
So the black paintings are meditative and about going really quiet. Reducing everything for the viewer. I loved working on those paintings but they were very demanding.
I then wanted to see what would happen if I changed to all white, the opposite of the black paintings. This inspired another way of working with the flower images.
You often use circles in your work - whether they are cut-outs in your plywood substrate or fabrics, or resin circles in your installations.
I love circles and using them as an element in my work. They remind me of the circles of women, connecting and working as a team. They represent the best way of being together. It’s very egalitarian. Sitting in circles was banned during the dictatorships in Argentina. They feel very meaningful in my life.
You have traveled a lot over the years and now you have some interesting artist residencies coming up. Tell us more.
For years it was very hard for me to do a residency because of my kids. But now that they are grown, I’ve been able to experience this way of travel. Last year I was invited to teach at the residency La Napoule Art Foundation in the South of France. Then this February I learned they were giving me an award for 2020. It’s an award they give to a sculptor every 2 years. It’s the first time it’s awarded to a woman and it includes an exhibition which will open next May.
I will also be doing a collaborative residency in Building Bridges, in Los Angeles with another artist from Argentina.
Thank you Ana María for sharing your articulate and in-depth experience of being an artist and traveler!
If you want to see more about Ana María and her work, check out her website at www.anamariahernando.com. She was recently the subject of a beautiful 25 minute documentary about her work and life that can be seen on her website called “Undocumented”.
To see her work in person go to:
And on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/anamariahernandoart/
To learn more about artist residencies, click below: