Interview with Hector Hernandez

From the Past to the Future

Beaverton's New Mural Celebrates Youth and Hope

Contributed by: Susan Gallacher Turner

“My intention is not to portray a beautiful world, my intention is to portray a world that is real but we can overcome problems,” says Hector Hernandez, mural artist.

Working with 15 students from Merlo Station High School, Hector Hernandez, created a mural concept that spans the solar system, early Beaverton, the threat of global warming and technological development to a hopeful resolution for the future generation and their children. This new mural combined new technology with traditional mural methods that Hernandez learned growing up in Mexico.

Hector Hernandez speaks during dedication ceremony.   Hector Hernandez and Merlo Station students pose for pic in front of new mural.

As a child in Mexico, Hector remembers he was always drawing and painting, “My first memories were of painting the walls, painting the street, the images of the trains, the landscape around me of the city.” Hector says, “I knew that I cannot be detached from art.” So while he was completing his degree in social anthropology, he worked for a Mexican mural artist. This art experience led him to study drawing and painting at San Carlos in Mexico City, art history and culture in Japan. Hector has degrees from Oregon State University and University of Oregon where he completed his Masters of Fine Art in 1999.

After all his study, it’s murals that still capture his artistic passion. “We need to express something, so for me I’m following the Mexican tradition,” says Hector. “Mural painting is the most unselfish work of art expression because it is public and therefore for everybody to see. I think that is very important.”

And he feels that his study of social anthropology has added a dimension to his mural work. “Anthropology was a very good way to learn about social issues, and culture and that is also reflected in my murals.” He wants his murals to bring messages to the people in the community. “For me, an artist is more like an activist,” explains Hector, “who is involved in many areas, in research, in the artistic creation, in the exploration and also the use of new materials and new techniques.”

Mural section imagery of nursing mother, mother embracing toddler and teens with outstretched arms.   Colorful Hernandez mural photographed south of Farmington Road.

Hector combined teaching traditional art techniques with the latest technology, but the center of his work with Merlo Station High School students was the mural itself. According to Hernandez, “Murals are an excellent teaching tool. Not only in the message, but also because it involves the cooperation of people for the implementation and organization of the mural. I will provide those tools for them to learn how to paint and create for a new generation.”

The 13 by 80 foot mural located at the intersection of S.W. Farmington Road and S.W. Watson in Beaverton has a powerful message of the dangers of global warming in our technological society and the hopes for future generations.

Hernandez explains how the elements of color, figures of youth and flower symbols tell a story of moving from darkness into the light. “The universe and solar flare represent this threat, the elements of technology, the motherboard, the circuit board, intertwined with the butterflies, if we use technology in a wise way, we will intertwine our interests with the interests of nature. The students follow the butterflies, and encounter again our path to nature represented by the flowers.” The Lotus flower represents emerging from difficulties, the Peony symbolizes wealth and well-being and the Sunflower completes the cycle of overcoming the problems and emerging into the light with energy and strength.

Section of mural with bold sunflower and Hernandez signature and date.   Merlo HS students pointing at, and discussing, the mural.

This hope is not just for the future and our children but the future of public art as well. Many cities once banned murals out of a fear that it would increase graffiti and tagging. But studies in California and Philadelphia proved just the opposite. Hernandez says, “Basically the more murals you have the less graffiti you have, especially tagging.”

Hernandez hopes that these studies and the new public art regulations will mean more art for the enjoyment of everyone. “I hope that we’ll have more pieces of artwork and community artists in the cities around the country in general. We need more public art to reflect the spirit, the identity and character of the people there.”

But what means the most to Hector is being able to share his vision and work together with students, teachers, arts organizations and the citizens of Beaverton. “Even if you did not have a good idea about my vision, you had faith in me and that was really touching,” says Hernandez.

Susan Gallacher-Turner is a local artist, writer and teacher. Susan’s sculpture work has been exhibited locally and around the Northwest including the 2009 Beaverton Arts Showcase. Her writing and interviews feature people living a creative life and can be read online on her blog, Susan’s Art & Words and Voices of Living Creatively.