Visionary British art dealer Victoria Miro is known for spotting artists early in their careers—Chantal Joffe, Peter Doig, and Tal R among them—and a young Spanish painter, Secundino Hernández, has not escaped her prescient eye. By now, Miro is synonymous with sold out works and long waitlists; paintings by Hernández, the newest addition to her roster, are no exception. Just prior to Art Basel, where one of the artist’s works sold within the first 15 minutes of the preview, Miro unveiled a solo exhibition of his paintings at her London space—a show entirely sold out before the doors even opened. Described as “wash” paintings, the works are somewhere between figuration and abstraction; a product of scraping, craving, and literally spraying the canvas with a pressure washer. And as there is perhaps no better milieu to observe the up-and-coming painter than his Madrid studio, blocks from the neighborhood where he grew up and surrounded by the energetic, layered canvases that first caught Miro’s attention, it is there that we arranged an hour to chat.
“The studio is always alive,” he said, confessing to working on multiple canvases at once—each painting linked to the next. “I include the whole process on the canvas; I mix the color on one, and then I take it to another.” The process is sometimes meticulous, sometimes spontaneous, but most often it is a combination of the two extremes, a harmony Hernández discovered two years ago after attempting to destroy a painting—gone rogue—with a pressure washer. Today, paintings like those hanging at Victoria Miro employ a process of precise, carefully planned addition and uncontrolled subtraction. “With this machine, I am carving, digging, taking off paint. When you remove the painting, there are restos—little traces of what was happening before. You can see the surface of the textile; the raw, pure canvas. You go directly to the soul of the painting.”
And while his paintings might recall the scribbles of Cy Twombly or the gestures of Action Painting (at times, he paints directly from the tube, as if sketching in a continuous fluid motion), at the core of Hernández’s practice is his Spanish heritage. Known to reference old and modern Spanish masters, Hernández is currently featured in an exhibition at Spain’s National Museum of Sculpture, among contemporary artists inspired by El Greco; the Renaissance painter is but one example of the lineage that Hernández has drawn from for years. A native Madrilenian, Hernández studied art locally before artist grants sent him spiraling on an international tour: the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera in Milan, followed by the Royal Academy of Spain in Rome, on to Vienna after an invitation from Galerie Krinzinger, and landing in Berlin. “It was always a challenge to work somewhere abroad,” he said. During this time, Hernández discovered the work of Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz who, stationed in Argentina during the Second World War, had been unable to return to Poland and created his life’s work away from home—most of which relates to his background as a Pole. “His work is also about the difficulties as an artist to develop a career in other countries; I could relate to him,” Hernández says. À la Gombrowicz, Hernández immersed himself in the work of artists from his home country; El Greco, Velázquez, and contemporary painters Luis Claramunt and Luis Gordillo. “With the internet, you have a really global world and you can have references from everywhere. At that time, I thought, what is happening in my country. What has happened to me?”
In that spirit, Hernández now splits his time between Berlin and Madrid, the latter studio a former second-hand shop that he had frequented longingly, admiring the light-flooded space, and seized as soon as the previous tenants flew the coop. No matter the extent of his travels, Hernández’s studio, not far from where he grew up, is a place he visits every day without fail. “It is not necessary to paint every day,” he said. “But it is important to have a look.” And there’s reason to believe that Hernández, after spending the better half of a decade with his nose in art history books, might one day find his name spoken with the same charge as his predecessors. Those needing proof might head to Victoria Miro, where nearly a dozen paintings are telling of a meticulous, process-based, and impassioned practice—or better yet, the studio where they were so lovingly made.
Following his current show, Hernández will mount a solo museum exhibition in the Alvar Aalto-designed Maison Louis Carré house in Paris, and a solo show of works on paper at Galería Heinrich Ehrhardt.
“Secundino Hernández” is on view at Victoria Miro, London, Jun. 11th – Aug. 1st, 2014.
Portraits and studio photographs by José A. Carrillo for Artsy. Images of artworks courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro, London. © Secundino Hernández.