For all its vivid Latin coloring and Peruvian symbolism, William Hernandez Molina’s art is both modern and whimisical. “Dreamlike,” he calls it. Molina is a Peruvian native and long-time working artist and educator, schooled at Lima’s La Escuela de Bellas Artes. Though he holds abstract art in great esteem, naming Paul Gauguin and Pablo Picasso as inspirations, his work is most closely aligned with the great figurative artist, Marc Chagall. “I didn’t cut my ear like [Vincent] Van Gogh,” he says. “But I try to listen to their advice to me.”
He met his wife, a Peace Corps worker from Portland, in Peru, and they came to Oregon together in 2009, shortly before she became pregnant with their first son. Since coming to Portland two years ago, Molina has shown 14 art shows and shows no signs of slowing.
During an evening out at Andina prompted by his father-in-law, Molina envisioned the restaurant as a potential canvas for his work. “I was enjoying my food and my Pisco sour,” he says. “I wasn’t thinking I’d be working there you know. I’ve never worked in a restaurant in my life.” It wasn’t until after he met with Mama Doris that an urge for “American work,” found him balancing days as a “striker” in the restaurant with nights in his studio.
His voice is clear, his passion beyond contagion; it hardly needs others to thrive. However, Molina says it is important for him to watch how others respond to his work and at times to clarify the story behind a piece. “Sometimes people make up their own stories about your work,” he says. “Art is an important connection, relationship. Everyone who sees it, owns it.”
NL: You seem so focused. How do you balance family, work at Andina and your art?
WHM: When I was in Peru, I was teaching and working on many projects at a time.When I came here I said, “I need American work. I need to integrate into the culture.” It’s important to bring your culture, but it’s important to change too—be where you are. So I had my first interview in America, first interview in English, and met [General Manager Jels McCaulay] at the same time.
Sometimes I’m working [at Andina], but I’m looking at people. Maybe one guy is eating dinner, but he’s worried about his business and his face shows it. I’m watching him and trying to figure out what he’s thinking. So when I sit in front of the white canvas later, I have hundreds of faces in my mind. It’s hard because I have so many ideas in my head, but not enough time to get them out. Spending time with my art is spending time with my son. My son is in that painting.
NL: Your work seems to incorporate folkloric Peruvian colors and symbolism with modern, even absurdist subject matter.
WHM: My art is figurative. I love abstract art, but mine is figurative. People will say, “You’re crazy. What’s that llama with a tie?” I’m telling stories of my own life. Sometimes ironic, sometimes ludico—illustrated with a mix of animals and plants. Though if you remove the animals and people from my work, you will still get the vision of my painting. I use the colors of my country in my painting. There’s a happiness to the Latin culture. That is one character you see in my paintings. No grey.
NL: So it’s not necessarily what some people would think of when they envision “Peruvian art”?
WHM: Yeah, that’s Andino, the Andean folkloric art that you’re talking of. I am telling my stories. But Latins have a shared background with important historical cultures. I met a Mexican man from the Yucatan and I could see the Mayan at his back. There is a sort of connection between Latins there. I represent the people there [in Peru] with my art, words, dreams. The difference is Americans are individuals. But that works because it’s a system.
NL: So you’ve done a lot of shows in Portland already. That’s great.
WHM: I’ve sold paintings in Portland, so it’s okay for me. I don’t know too much about the Portland art scene, but when I had my first art show here last September, people seemed grateful because they said it’s so different. I have an art collector here in Portland, my first one. He’s bought six paintings and follows me to each show. I was a part of the first Latin Artists Exchange (LAX) at the Teatro Milagro. I asked Andina to participate in the event and they did. I got to meet other Latin artists, not just painters, but dancers, writers. We put together the first directory of Latin artists in Portland and the Mayor was pleased as it was a project that he had been working to promote.
It’s important for artists to keep balance in the life. To create, but also to show their work. Here, it’s hard for me to communicate all my ideas clearly, but in the canvas I am free.
NL: What are your goals as an artist?
WHM: I’m 34 and I’m not famous. It’s okay. I try to paint every day. It’s important that when people see my work, they say “Oh, that’s William Hernandez.” Of course it grows over the years, but it’s easy to see that it’s my work. My goal? To keep it honest. Honesty is priceless. I try to start every day with a white page. With art, you never know what will happen in the future.
Check out Molina’s work on his website at williamhernandezart.com.