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The Fleshy and the Figurative: a Conversation with Secundino Hernández

4 weeks ago

After his 2months residency at Victoria Miro Venice, Spanish artist Secundino Hernández is exhibiting the results of his Venetian studio experience which includes small-scale figurative paintings.

Mara Sartore: Is this your first residency in Italy?

Secundino Hernández: No, my first residency dates back to 1999 in Milan. I finished my studies at Accademia delle Belle Arti di Brera, then in 2005 I went to Academia de España in Rome for a 9 months course. And finally, here in Venice, it was a 2 months residency.

Mara Sartore: What challenges have you had to deal with during your residency here in Venice?

Secundino Hernández: In my practice, I usually do large-­scale abstract paintings which literally have no limits in terms of size, process and with no references. So here, the main challenge was to go back to my figurative practice after many years mainly focused on abstraction. For this reason, I decided to reduce the scale and the use of living models. This was the first idea I had since the gallery proposed to me to show my work in Venice. I thought about a process where you can evolve faster because of course working with large scale paintings takes longer time. I tried to do it in a way completely new to me, so I had to try something new, to evolve towards figurative practice and going back to representation which is what I’m not doing normally in my studio in Madrid. I’m curious to see what will happen after this figurative period of my practice in Venice.

Mara Sartore: Did Venice play any important role in the inspiration for your work?

Secundino Hernández: Of course, Venice is a figurative city. It’s full of figures and colours all over, I am impressed by the fleshy tones of Venice’s architecture and the facades of the buildings… Gradually I started to look at Venice from a human and emotional perspective rather than from an architectural one.

Mara Sartore: How has it been living in Venice?

Secundino Hernández: It was very suggestive and motivational, I enjoyed it a lot and it’s so different from my other life experience in Italy, in Milan or Rome. This city makes you think a lot in terms of mobility, for instance, it’s great and I’m looking forward to coming back again to Venice for another show!

Mara Sartore: What will you bring back to Madrid after this experience?

Secundino Hernández: Of course, all I’ve learned out of those long studio sessions and the grateful experience of living here. You know this is not the first time I approach figurative painting: last summer I also painted some figures in Menorca and I showcased the results in New York, but I’ll always remember Venice as a beginning where everything changed again into a new figurative body of work.

Mara Sartore: Do you think you will transfer the figures to your large-­‐‑scale paintings?

Secundino Hernández: Maybe, it’s a matter of the idea and how to represent it. The scale of these Venetian paintings was reduced and decided in advance because I wanted to evolve quicker as I mentioned but also because of the subject, I found it very intimate.

Mara Sartore: Could you tell me about your usual painting technique?
Secundino Hernández: I usually work with Italian linen and primers with which I can remove, erase or scratch the paint surface when it’s wet and when it’s dry stabilises, so it’s a way to approach painting differently. Normally painters add painting to the canvas. Inverting the process, the technique becomes sculptural, in a way, as I gradually remove layers of painting and primer going back to the pure linen. I also started to use stitching on the canvas in order to physically keep the shapes (forms) and poses of the models. I started to use the stitching to join large canvases and then for some abstract geometrical works.
So basically, in my practice, I go back and forth, from the figurative to the abstraction which translates to: “do I want to represent or not to represent?”. And when I deal with the figures, then I feel safer because I have something to study, I have just to represent, to follow some rules.

Mara Sartore: I think that currently in contemporary art there is great expectation and interest in painting…

Secundino Hernández: Yes, it is true but it’s not easy to move forward after centuries of history of painting. To make something new is a hard process. Maybe that’s why many artists evolve with a sort of illustrative painting or going back to the roots, recall tradition and play with history. The main question would be: How to develop something that is already so sophisticated? In the end, everything is painted, even makeup! To me, painting is just a language.

Mara Sartore: I don’t believe that everything has been done but that each artist has a magical power in his/her hands. Nowadays I feel that artists have this frustration of doing something new, which is not necessary…

Secundino Hernández: I think that the new comes up when something you feel new. I mean the experience is honest and the viewer is able to perceive that truth. To me, It’s like a journey, better not to expect too much from yourself. Just do and enjoy the creative journey.

Mara Sartore: Do you have any mentor in your practice?

Secundino Hernández: Of course, I have my references in my work, coming from Old Masters, from Spanish history and also from my experiences as an artist and spectator. For example, when I go to museums I go as a painter but also as a general audience so I keep on learning about painting and the history of art.

Mara Sartore: Did you have a chance to visit some museums here in Venice?

Secundino Hernández: Unfortunately, not that much this time, I just visited some temporary exhibitions. I still have my memories of Venice from a long time ago. I also like the idea of creating a fresh memory of a place and be touched by it. The more you travel the more you see, the more you feel anesthetised, that’s my fear.

Mara Sartore: Did you feel touched by Venice? How did you perceive its energy? Many people are complaining the city is dead…

Secundino Hernández: It’s not a dead city. There’s so much potential and it’s an endless city in many senses. I’d be happy living here.

Mara Sartore: Would you live here in Venice?

Secundino Hernández: Yes, but I’m sure that this decision would affect my vision and appreciation of the city as a painter. Venice is the perfect city for a figurative painter. A city where you have the time to look at it, to speak with locals…Of course, if you ask me if I prefer New York or another big city or Venice, then I’d say Venice: I can’t deny the fact that things you can do in Venice can only be done in Venice, this is a unique city.

Mara Sartore

  • Secundino Hernández in his Madrid studio, 2016 Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro (Photography Thierry Bal) Secundino Hernández in his Madrid studio, 2016 Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro (Photography Thierry Bal)
  • Secundino Hernández, Grapado a la piel, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice Secundino Hernández, Grapado a la piel, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice
  • Secundino Hernández, Rojo, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice Secundino Hernández, Rojo, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice

Related Art Spaces

Victoria Miro, Venice