Best Artist: Adam Hernandez
You can take Adam Hernandez out of the Land of Thunderbirds — indeed, he has taken himself out, given the extensive mural work he’s done, indoors and out, in town and out — but you can’t take Land of Thunderbirds out of Adam Hernandez.
Or something like that.
“I’ve been doing a lot more murals, so I haven’t been painting as much as I’d like. But murals are something that exist out in the world for a long time and for many people to see,” Hernandez said. “I’m still building up that body of work that is Land of Thunderbirds, but going even deeper, uncovering more of the mythology, allowing it to create itself.”
Combining two sets of imagery that Hernandez grew to love growing up in the Bronx, New York, Land of Thunderbirds is a post-apocalyptic world whose look is informed by South and Central American hieroglyphic art and graffiti.
“Where I grew up in the Bronx was super rough, and me and my brothers weren’t the biggest people, so my parents schooled us at home, or we went to school in a church. One thing about my mom that I’m super appreciative of is that when we were into something she just dived in super deep. So I was into this native art and Greek mythology and the idea of these characters who weren’t real but were real for people in a culture, and maybe that makes them real? Anwyay, I realized I had all these influences, and I decided to create my own mythology.”
Hernandez “messed around” with graffiti, but he was sure to point out that those who actively make it “literally risk their freedom and believe in the art they’re creating and how.” But Hernandez noted the similarity in the mark-making between hieroglyphics and graffiti, and that street feel has always been a part of his visual language, as well.
The artist had a bit of an epiphany when, a couple of years back, he visited Puerto Rico for the first time. The island his family had called home greeted him with visuals that gave new depth to the imagery of his myth.
“Puerto Rico, sadly, a lot of it is economically depressed, and Hurricane Maria just made things worse. Land of Thunderbirds is this world where nature and the jungle have overgrown cities, and there I was seeing these abandoned buildings with vines and trees growing in and through them,” Hernandez said.
Even when it’s not formally part of Hernandez’ growing and evolving mythology — whether an outdoor mural like his University District work or the painting he’s done for Condado Tacos at the Dublin and Indianapolis locations — the work is instantly recognizable as his.
“I guess my name is getting known a little bit, which is cool. I’ve just been working hard,” said Hernandez, who is in the midst of scheduling a local gallery show for September with Pittsburgh artist Brian Gonnella. “People trust me. I ask what they want and they just say, ‘Whatever you think would look cool.’”