The Last Caribbean, Bohemian Artist

 

 

Just a few words

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To all those who are reading this please be advised that I am not a writer, I am an artist living in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico to be precise. I had decided some time back that I needed another outlet besides paint in which to express myself and my life. I chose this means. I do not pretend to be of literary caliber, no, I just put things down as they come to me and in some way hope that they give a clue to my times, my work and my life. I hope that what I put down here gives others a glimpse of an artist life as it is being lived and not in some distorted biography in the future.

Roberto Hernandez

Self potrait

The Afternoon Walk
© Roberto Hernández 2007

Now that the spring is coming I had decided to work on our mountain which rises up behind our home. I had to clear the trail which was overgrown with plants, weeds and grass not to mention the countless leaves. It was an interesting morning filled with good honest toil which was a break from the brain work of the computer which has consumed me for some time now. I saw that there were plenty of ñame seeds hanging from different vines throughout the lower part of the mountain. I collected a number of them and continued clearing the trail up to the kiosk that I had built in the mountain some years back as a place to rest, entertain and listen to music. My wife sometimes uses it to play her Puerto Rican Cuatro. I spent most of the morning at this task on the lower trails, leaving the upper trails for another day as these would be harder to clear and would require more equipment. By noon it was time to come down , take a shower and walk to the store to get some cold ones to quench my thirst and spend a quiet afternoon relaxing.

After chasing the cat back onto the property, which always follows me off, and greeting the next door neighbors I began my walk down the road. I enjoy this walk as I greet people, look at plants and trees and fully take in my surroundings always looking for my next painting subject. As always I ran into the usual people going about their work or relaxing in the shade from the tropical afternoon heat. Most of the women were going about their usual washing of clothes or getting the afternoon meal ready. Ah the aromas that are to be had as one passes from one home to another, an absolute experience for the nose! After two more curves in the road I was nearing my destination.

Just before getting to the store I saw my friend Victor standing absolutely still behind a parked car. I greeted him from behind and it was odd but he did not move. I wondered at this and thought maybe he had not heard me. Then I saw what was keeping him so still. He had set out a trap to get some neighbors chickens that had been soiling his driveway. The trap was a large cylindrical cage that he was holding in an open position with a long cord waiting for the chickens to go in. Upon seeing this I slowed down and began conversing with him as to the latest events and news. The only topic on his mind was the chickens. As in most places on the island the chickens are left free to roam around and feed on whatever they can find. In some areas this presents a problem because the birds, not knowing or caring about property lines venture virtually everywhere. Most of the time they pose no problems. More often than not they put their lives in danger by going back and forth across the road. Many a chicken has met its demise in this fashion since the roads are for cars and pedestrians and are not suited for chickens who usually panic at the approach of a car and ironically many run right into the path of oncoming cars. I saw that Victor was intent on his mission so I walked around him slowly so as not to scare the birds who were intent on going into the baited trap.

Upon reaching the store I had to call out for Anna who managed it. She had been upstairs eating her lunch and I excused myself for having interrupted her meal. She came down, brushed the apology aside and got me several cold beers. Usually at this time of the afternoon there are little if any customers. I had some small talk with her, thank her for attending me and I went back on my return trip to the house. Victor was still trying to trap the chickens. A little way down the road I noticed the water running down the gutter, which was coming from up the road where someone was either washing the driveway or clothing. It struck a cord in me and I found myself thinking of the old days when I lived in New York.

Back In my youth, ages ago it seems, I had a friend who lived in Spanish Harlem on 103rd just a couple of blocks from the big market located under the train trestle where all sorts of Caribbean foods were to be found. I have no idea if that place still exist today. I would visit my friend whenever I could afford the train fare which was around fifteen cents then. Here I was introduced to a purely Hispanic and largely Puerto Rican neighborhood. There were areas on Brooklyn which were both Hispanic and Puerto Rican but none equaled the size or scope of Spanish Harlem. What made me think of Spanish Harlem was the many times I had gone to visit my friend having taken the A train all the way there from Brooklyn I would walk the final few blocks to his apartment house. On the way I would almost always see a large group of men rushing along the curb of the street, yelling and gesturing as they would follow pieces of wood that were rushing along on top of the water that was being supplied by an opened water hydrant. I was fascinated by this scene and would follow them to see what it was all about. It turned out that what was going on was Spanish Harlem styled betting! Each man had a piece of wood that he had bet on and through sheer will power was trying to push it along to a predetermined point that had been designated the finish line. There was usually a lot of yelling and cursing and other obscene gesturing until the pieces of wood passed the predetermined finish line. As usual there were always arguments until it was finally decided who actually won. I never forgot those occasions and held them as fond memories of my youth and how it was that our people, who could not really afford the usual types of entertainment, found a way to entertain themselves. There were many other types of entertainment, both for the young and the old. The kite wars on the roof tops, the clandestine cock fights which were illegal and of course the weekends in Central Park.

I dwelled on this for a few moments as I continued my walk home. I them folded these memories up and gently put them away in the recesses of my mind, under the filename of memorabilia. Some day I will re-open that file.

Global Warming
Roberto Hernández 2007

It is interesting to know that while many countries of the world treat global warming as a fact the current Bush administration turns a deaf ear to the whole problem claiming that any legislation that supports it would harm the nation’s economy. What comes to mind right away is a cancer patient who must under go chemo-therapy in order to live. Of course the therapy will be painful but the end result (usually) will be life saving and worth the sacrifice.

It would seem that the current administration is more concerned with oil profits (a republican mainstay) than the issue of the environment.

For the most part they seem to treat the issue of global warming as if it were some sort of psuedo- science, brought forth by astrologers rather than the science it is and that other countries accept as science. Even within the United States there are numerous scientists that are issuing warnings regarding the ever increasing world greenhouse gases and many are simply ignored (mostly by politicians and businesses that are more concerned by profit than pollution). There have already been numerous climatic changes attributed to effects of global warming and the greenhouse gases it releases which have been reported yet the current administration chooses to ignore them.

At the present there are two glaciers in Greenland that are receding and scientist believe it is due to global warming and there are various changes taking place in the oceans of the world as well. One wonders what it will take for the most powerful nation on earth to step in line with the rest of the world and help bring about significant changes that will help slow down or stop this on-going problem. To make things worse now it has been reported that the Bush administration has sought to hush up scientific reports and some reports were even edited, grossly in some cases, specifically for the words “ Global Warming“.

I guess the fact that Cherry trees blossoming 4 months before their due date , rising water levels in our oceans and violent snowstorms across the nation are not indicators that something is wrong. Oh yes, the Cherry trees were blossoming in Washington D.C. itself! Could this have been a sign from the “Big Boss” himself!

 

 

 

 

My Views on Art and the Art World

© Roberto Hernández 2007

After my return from a rather unpopular war I set about to see what I would do with my life and forget the nightmare of the war I had just returned from. During this time I had odd jobs, got married and began a family. I had slowly been drawn towards art and painting in general. I had begun studying on my own with the popular books of the times available at art supply stores and in local public libraries. Later this proved to be to my advantage since some of my instructors thought I had already studied at some other school when I enrolled in the Art Students League in New York. At first I had thought of studying computer technology but when my test scores came back at the Veterans Administration office in charge of schooling they were impressed with the results that pointed towards art, and so was I, so I went ahead and enrolled in the League.

The four and a half years I spent there were to be my most treasured memories. I quickly fell into a Bohemian life style that has lasted to this day. I lived art. I breath art. I consumed all manner of things related with art. I read constantly, mostly the biographies of all those who had come before me into this wonderful world of art. I read of the triumphs and tragedies. Of riches obtained and of lost fortunes. I read of the technical advances as well as of lost techniques. Nothing escaped my veracious appetite for art knowledge and along with this came a general fund of knowledge that was vast and covered many, many area’s of human knowledge. Like all other artist studying with me I was an idealist, a person with a dream. A individual looking to make my mark on society and possibly history. So much for idyllic thoughts!

What I did not learn from many of those books was that life has it’s own agenda as doe’s society and mankind in general. I would learn that talent and technical prowess are not guaranties for success or just making a name for oneself. I was to learn many of the secrets of the Big Names in art and they were more tragic than the biographies of some of them. I discovered that art is no more different than any other profession. It was subject to the same laws that govern life in any place on the earth. Talent and technical prowess are not guaranties for anything. They will draw attention, but that is it. Then the laws that govern life step in as the equalizer. I discovered a rather interesting fact and that is that many of these famous artist would probably had not been famous if life had been different with them. For instance, if Van Gogh would have had a wife who bore him a child there would have been an estate which in turn would have been governed by some lawyer who, as we all know would have been in on it for the money and being in Europe he would have probably made off with most of it. And that would have been the end of it and Van Gogh’s life. Instead, what happens. Van Gogh shoots himself. His brother Theo dies a short time later after losing his mind. I am not too sure what happened to Theo’s wife especially since little is known of her after Theo’s death. What happens next is the amazing part. Van Gogh’s works are spread all over the place, some in minor collections, some were used as target practice or for mending fences. It then starts to dawn on a number of individuals that if a big enough effort is made to glamorize this artist then those who have some of his works can begin to cash in and make a bloody fortune. The only one who would have objected, Mr. Van Gogh himself was no longer in the land of the living! Neither was Mr. Theo Van Gogh. Therein lies the really big tragedy because Theo truly loved his brother. Well, here we have an art society sitting around wondering how to exploit all this artwork, literally hundreds of paintings. Certainly it dawned upon them to begin writing about him and by so doing begin to generate interest in his work whether they liked it or not, whether they thought it was good or not. The goal was to exploit this abundance of artwork and create an industry. Well, history has shown that they not only went ahead with such a plan but that they succeeded to the tune of millions upon millions of dollars. Who are they one may ask? Who knows. The fact is that what remained of a mans’ tragic life, his work, was exploited by many, glamorized as a marketing tool and sold like so many stock’s and bond’s.

If Van Gogh would have been alive today he would most likely had ended up as some obscure person living on welfare, probably on drugs and most likely stuck in some mental institution until his death. Having had studied art the only thing that I can say about his work is that it was done with passion, period. In all actuality it is the defects in his works that make themselves felt. Much the same can be said of Cezanne. First of all he came from a money family so he did not have to depend on art like so many of the others had to. I feel that all the attention given to Cezanne regarding cubism is really misplaced. He had made some mention of viewing things like cubes and cylinders and guess what, some enterprising individual made a theory out of it and now the world regards Cezanne as the father of Cubism. I really don’t believe that Cezanne had abstract art in mind when he spoke of cubes and cylinders. I believe that what he said and what was actually done were two totally different things. I have found that to be true throughout history. One person utters something then all of a sudden it becomes something else. It is much the same thing that happens in history. We never truly hear the “ other side “ of the story because the other side generally belongs to the vanquished and is usually buried for decades if not centuries. Getting back to Cezanne, what he really needed was some courses in art especially in the human figure. I truly doubt that he could have painted a decent nude to save his life! And again it is the defects in his work that capture the attention. The idiosyncratic. This can really be said about most artwork. Just look at Boterro, Dali, Modigliani, Chagall, god the list is endless. It is the idiosyncratic that makes a work and has little if anything to do with real talent. The talent comes in spotting the gimmick and capitalizing on it. Picasso’s early works showed true talent, what came later was a gimmick that caught on and he continued to exploit and rationalize it because it sold! If it did not sell I am certain that he would have been the very first to throw it in the garbage. The idiosyncratic coupled with the usual eccentricity are the things that made these artist, along with the glamorization of such lives by individuals who themselves were probably failed artist as can be said of many art directors with their masters degrees in art. Picasso can be said to have been lucky in that he was accepted by his host country, France as have other artist. I truly suspect that he was accepted because he was already famous otherwise he would probably have been deported along with all other immigrants that have met the same fate in France, in fact he came very close to this fate early in his artistic career. His fame was such that by this time he had become a communist and he was not booted out of the country, as would have been the case in the U.S.! I often wonder what would have become of him if he had remained in his native Spain instead of moving to France. That question can be raised about a number of artist. Marc Chagall is another who left Russia and moved to France. Paul Gaugain, who left France for Tahiti. I would mention Henri Matisse but he returned to France.

I have noticed that this is a phenomenon that takes place quite frequently and in many professions not just art. While living in the country of his birth the individual is just another Joe, a nobody. The minute he moves to another country things start to happen usually for the better. That is something that I have seen happen many times here on the island of Puerto Rico. The press usually refers to it as a “ Brain Drain “. Talent going elsewhere because they cannot make the real money here or get the recognition or support they merit. The funny thing about this that does not seize to amaze me is that these individuals are then looked upon as if they were traitors to their country of birth because in many instances they go on to gain recognition elsewhere and none of it is attributed to the birth country! There have been many in that category from the island. My thoughts on that is that the birth country should have been more insightful and paid them well or been more supportive. As is more customary they cannot set-up in business because other more powerful families already have those spots taken and are well entrenched. I recall speaking with a doctor one time who admitted this to me. He actually left his profession and went on to do something else after having spent years in medicine.

As for the art world, like I said it’s no more different than any other profession except for one very important thing. As artist we seem to be endowed with a gift for seeing things more clearly. I don’t know if this is genetic ( which I doubt ) or if it has something to do with the creative, right brain hemisphere or the Jungian theory of being able to tap into the collective unconscious. When I mention “ seeing“ I don’t just mean in the literal artistic sense only, but with a more profound sense towards all things regarding life. Maybe it is this that imbues our art with that “ something “ that is so valued by society.

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Bohemian Artist

© Roberto Hernández 2007

 

 

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I am an aging Bohemian artist living in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico to be precise. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I fought in an unpopular war, not because I wanted to but like many others it was either that, leave the country which was the option of the rich or go to jail ( with no get out of jail free card ). Of those experiences I could write a book. On my return from the war I started working, got married, studied art on my own, then went to the Art Students League of New York. I must have studied well in my self studies because many teachers at the League asked what school I had come from? I fell in love with the Bohemian aspect of the artist life. I discovered that I could make money with my talent without actually having to have a job. While I might have worked very hard at painting and other creative endeavors I did not feel like it was work. I felt as if it were my destiny to create, be it with paint, wood, stone or whatever! I lived as a struggling artist for many years. And oddly enough loved it! I worked at odd jobs while still in New York but this was not to last. As with most of the ethnics living in the states ( and elsewhere ) , racism was the rule of thumb whether people want to admit it or not! I did not feel free. Our sons were getting ready to enter the New York Public School System and having been through that I did not want it for our sons. After trying to move into a better neighborhood only to confront yet another incident of racism I decided it was time to leave! I decided on my parents homeland, Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico

While it was no easy move I was to discover in later years that it was my best decision. We were able to have a home, I was able to become known on the island. I went down the usual gallery path the all artist walk. In later years I was to pull my works out due to the usual gallery politics which I detest. Artist know what I am talking about, the prima- donnas. The trust fund artist. The rich artist with B.A.‘s, M. A’s , etc, etc. who could not draw to save their lives and least still do a portrait free hand in public to demonstrate their true abilities. I had already spent 2 decades doing Christmas Card illustrations, exhibiting in galleries, and continually learning all manner of art forms and acquiring knowledge of all sorts.

Back in the late nineties after going through a life altering experience, namely a divorce, I began pulling my work out of the galleries and began withdrawing into a bohemian life style. More so nowadays, what with the constant government intervention into the realm of art making it difficult for artist to even live on the fringes of society. That is one of the many changes taking place in Puerto Rico right now. Our beloved island is quickly changing. This need that the local hierarchy have to plunge our island into a cloned version of the states thinking all along that they will be in control if we were to become a state when in reality we would suffer the same fate of Hawaii! I dislike politics yet it is a reality we can’t escape no matter how illogical! I have always lived by a saying that I had written years ago which goes as follows:

Life in itself is
Not difficult,
It is people
who make it so.

I have yet to find a situation in which this is not so. Now, as our island continues to confront change as does the rest of the world, I retreat into my Bohemian existence. I no longer care for the gallery circuit preferring to deal directly with people.

I don’t know how much time is left to me before the inevitable visit by “ Joe Black “. I do intend to enjoy it and live my Bohemian existence. Who knows, I might end up being The
Last Bohemian Artist.

Roberto Hernández

 

 

 

 

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Passion

© Roberto Hernández 2006

 

Passion : fervor, ardor, obsession, infatuation, excitement, enthusiasm, zeal, craze, delight. These are the synonyms for passion as described in a thesaurus. Life : existence, being, time, living. These are the synonyms for life as described in a thesaurus.
I have given much thought to the subject of passion in life ever since my last trip to New York in October, 2004. I guess the first synonyms for passion put it well as well as the synonyms for life. To have a passion for something would mean that first you must discover this “ thing “ that is to awaken the passion within us. I do not feel that it has to be something big.

A persons life style can be permeated with a passion for living in which case it is not actually one thing that the passion springs from but being immersed in a constant succession of experiences which provide the person with the stimulus to feel the passion of the moment or experience. I think that for most people they feel their passion when they are engrossed in something that really turns them “ on “. For some it can be music, art, dancing, singing, sports, etc., etc. The list and its diversity can be endless. I think that it is a sad state of affairs when an individual cannot feel passion for anything. In that case it can easily be said that the individual has no excitement for existence, no enthusiasm for being, no zeal for living. This person derives no joy from anything. Luckily these individuals are few in number and many of those can be termed as being totally depressed.

Simply put passion in life comes from grasping at that thing or things that bring us joy and which we look forward to doing or participating in. Like life passions change during life or because of it. Our status in life is something that would affect our passion or passions to some degree. A person with an infatuation for thoroughbred horses and a pocket full of lint is obviously not going to realize his passion! So, to some degree our passions are tempered by our pockets. Fortuneately, in our modern times most people are in a position to realize their passion to a somewhat satisfactory degree. About the only thing that I can think of that would be a deterrence to an individual seeking his passion would be the individuals state of “ free will “.

© Roberto Hernández 2006

Piñones faded

 

 

 

 

Piñones, Piñones, where have you gone?

© Roberto Hernández 2007

 

Since the beginning of 1980 I had strolled down the beaches along the coast of Piñones and Loiza haven fallen in love with this mysterious and almost mystical stretch of beach. There were times in which I might have spent almost a week in this area collecting material for my paintings and passing the warm tropical days fishing and relaxing in tropical decadence that must have been what Gaugain had experienced in Tahiti.

From the moment I set foot on those beaches I fell in love with the atmosphere, the smells and aromas, the people and their customs. Any mention of a trip to this area was all I needed as an excuse to go rushing there. I recall the days we would spend catching crabs by the bucket-full and plunging them into boiling water to enjoy a meal of freshly caught crabs. I recall the times when the whole community would ban together to string out the long gill net. This was a community venture and men women and children would all be out there to lend a hand in the task. The boat would pull the long net out into the surf in a wide arch until they came back to shore where the people would grab the end and begin to haul. Slowly the net would make its way toward shore bringing in the bounty of the sea. Slowly the net would yield its catch and the children and women would collect the fish and put them in buckets and sacks. At the end of the evening the catch would be divided among the people and slowly everyone would make their way back towards their wooden shacks. The event would be replaced by the un-mistakable smell of fresh fish being made in all manner of ways.

Back then, before the intervention of the tourist minded government there was much joy there. I still recall the sound of the bongo’s and congas during the evenings and well into the nights. I recall the multitude of people that would gather along those beaches to enjoy the delicacies of the many wooden kioskos that would make their “ Frituras “ there in front of you with the smell of burning wood all around. I recall the many night spots where people would and did spend the entire weekends in continuous parties. I recall the young men that would swim out early in the morning in search of the octopus that were holed up in the reef and stone. One would also see the many fishermen starting their day rowing out to spend the day at their labors.

This was a region of life that pulsed and vibrated. This was a region where one could get lost in the past and hear stories of by gone days. One could still hear stories of the times of the Spaniards and their cruelty to the people from the few old people that had lived through those times. I recall many a story from this region and the imagery it would provoke in my imagination.

Ah, at last those days are now gone. Jogging paths for the tourist and the rich replaced the old sandy trails. Cement kioskos replaced the wooden ones and where there were wooden fires now there are none. The people struggle to maintain a semblance of the past but to no avail. The constant pressures of government, private industry and the rich will eventually wipe out what is left like one great tsunami. Gone will be a region rich in the past and in culture. The last to go will probably be our cherished Vejigantes which can still be seen on the roads during the festivities of Loiza. Their costumes will someday hang on the walls of some Western Museum, a reminder of what was.

© Roberto Hernández 2007

 

2 Responses to “The Last Caribbean, Bohemian Artist”

  1. Juana Says:

    Robert,

    Your work still amazes me! It is good to see that you have continued with your wonderful god given talent.

    The family still has your early works of nature, that used to occupy their living room. Although the painting show there age, they are still wonderful.

    So, tell me, why are you looking for El Gringo?

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