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Valley Brush Strokes 

BY: Camilo Diaz Jr. 

Inside a small red room in Hinovation Gallery near downtown McAllen, Lupe Hernandez is working on a painting.

On a long canvas that almost fills up an entire wall hangs a painting of him with his little brother, Juan, and his good friend, Mando. It’s a painting that represents brotherhood and the culture in South Texas.

The Chicano artist and art instructor is known as “Mr. Three D” because of the shapes he incorporates in his work. He doesn't identify with one particular style, incorporating abstract, cubism, and surrealistic styles. His work can be found in murals all over South Texas, in galleries, on walls, or on vehicles. For Hernandez, the objective of his work is to tell a story so he can interact with the audience.   

“Art to me is just the freedom of expression,” Hernández said. “Instead of keeping it in and getting sick from it, we just let it out onto canvas with brush strokes.”

Living on the border between the United States and Mexico, Lupe Hernandez was immersed in a culture that soon defined his art. He grew up in Mission Texas, where he was raised by a family full of talent.

 Much of Hernandez’s work incorporates his Mexican-American culture. He describes his inspiration coming from traditional Mexican influences, but more than anything the Mexican-American community in the Rio Grande Valley. The people of the valley inspire Hernandez. 

 Hernandez's work captures the special culture that enriches the RGV. Hernandez’s art isn’t a one-dimensional concept; he incorporates stories within artistic elements. 

“I get inspired by the people here, you know, locally from singers to bakers to mechanics, of course, all those people also have a face,” Hernandez says. “They also have a heart. They also have a life. And we all need each other. 

His mother was also an artist. As a kid, Hernandez said he recognized the delicate process his mother, Maria Alicia Hernandez, would use on floral drawings and acrylic paintings of landscapes. He would draw little sketches in his mom’s cookbooks. When he was young, he said, his mother and aunts recognized an artist in the making. His father, Gabriel Hernandez, was a woodworker, and he was very persistent about his workplace, organizing his tools meticulously. He would have Lupe help him with his strict yet efficient work environment. That later translated into Lupe’s attention to detail in his paintings. His uncles and older brothers did calligraphy and traditional Chicano art styles. Their influences also can be seen in his unique use of letters and geometrical shapes in his graffiti.   

Lupe Hernandez’s work pays homage to his family. As he strikes brush strokes onto the canvas, images of his family come to life through paint. On the wall hangs a painting of a red cardinal. The word “mom,” is incorporated in the painting, and he said that whenever he sees a cardinal, he thinks of her.  He points out hidden symbolism with certain objects on the canvas, such as a paintbrush, a necklace, a clock, an envelope, and a floating spear. He says the painting is a love letter to his mother. All his paintings have a personal meaning. 

Apart from creating, Lupe is also an art instructor, where he works alongside his partner and fellow artist/gallery owner, Raquel Hinojosa. They educate young minds with artistic expression.  The classes inspire their students to exercise their creativity and express themselves with their imagination. They have seen some students grow up into young adults.   

“We work side by side with a lot of organizations and we also help the community,” said Hernandez. “It’s a whole community of artists. It’s a family,”

Not only do they offer classes, but they also feature artwork from local and international artists in their art gallery space.  They believe it is important to give opportunities to other artists and to share new artwork with the public.  They also raise money by selling artwork to donate to foundations that help the community.  

  In the painting that depicts him with his brother and friend, they are standing in front of a gray 1964 Chevy Impala. Behind them is a beige wall that has “South Texas” written on it in Hernandez’s classic calligraphy. On the horizon stand tall palm trees. On the fender of Impala is a big 64 that represents the Navy ship where his friend Mando worked.

As he paints, Hernandez enters a trance where he concentrates on the minor details to perfect the work for an upcoming group exhibition called Texicano, celebrating art that represents Mexican Americans in Texas.   

“What keeps me motivated is the freedom, at the same time, it’s a way of life,” said Hernandez. “That’s where I get my meditation, that’s where I get my exercises with resting my mind.”  

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