At the art school in upstate New York that 2016 Educational Center for the Arts (ECA) grad Ruby Gonzales Hernandez attended after leaving New Haven, some of her fellow minority students encountered death threats and other harassments — some written on the white boards of their dormitory rooms — especially in the days after the election of Donald Trump.
Hernandez has returned to New Haven, an emerging artist, with work created to understand and heal from that experience. She’s showing that and new works reflecting the trucha, the slang Spanish word for “resilient strength,” of her Fair Haven family and neighbors, many undocumented, a quality that she had not fully appreciated before.
The works will be on view in Hernandez’s Chatham Street basement studio during the private studio visit weekend on Oct. 21 and 22, the third of the four weekends of Artspace’s Citywide Open Studios (CWOS) art extravaganza.
“I was very affected,” she said during a tour of her studio, by the atmosphere and “micro-aggressions” she experienced at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). “I felt worried for myself and my family, many of whom are undocumented.”
When this young artist feels deeply affected by something, she said she goes to art not to express something she feels or knows for certain, but rather to help her figure out precisely what it is.
What emerged in the final project for her photography class at RIT were large digital photographs that overlay scenes of demonstrations in Rochester, New Haven, and New York.
There’s a dizzying, palimpsest-like quality about them, and Hernandez was surprised when people expressed as much interest in her process—how she went out to take the photos and interview participants in tense situations—as they were in the overlay of the images themselves.
She said she was also told that the photographs reminded some viewers of work done documenting demonstrations during the 1960s Civil Rights era, which she found perplexing and intriguing.
“A lot of time I don’t understand what I’m doing until I’m done. It’s a process of trying to understand or heal,” she said.
She’s also featuring new work she did in one of her classes at RIT, before she left after one semester. While the atmosphere for minority students of color was the precipitating reason for leaving, Hernandez was full of praise for her RIT teachers, just as she was for those at ECA. What they have in common, she said, is “they care,” and they helped her explore the whole range of possibility of graphic expression.
The results are paintings and drawings, along with new works in digital photography. “I wish I could commit myself to one medium,” she said, “but I love what the different media do for me, and I can’t divorce myself from any of them,”
The works she’s showing are part of her continuing experimentation; they are different, she said, simpler and dealing with photography’s fundamental element, light.
The views in the new series — she showed this reporter only three of what will be at least ten — come from around Fair Haven. Perhaps others will be from a series of stark brick facades she took in Rochester. “It’s known as the city of bricks,” she added.
“I’ve noticed my frame is always filled,” she added. “I’m not drawn to minimalism. I get scared it’s not enough, but I decided to tackle that fear,” by working with light and color. She came up with images of walls, overhead wires, and reflections in puddles.
What issue is Hernandez working through with these compositions?
She’s not sure, she said, but a lot has to do with her new appreciation of Fair Haven and its residents, like her own family and neighbors, and how they have toughed it out with trucha. She did not acknowledge it as much growing up there as a kid, let alone admire it.
Also in the trucha department is Hernandez creating for herself, for the first time, a studio space in the basement of her home. She said she had to convince her mother, who she said was initially not supportive of her daughter’s career choice.
The basement had been filled with over 3,000 pumpkin, tree, and other molds from what had been a ceramic bisque business the family ran for 10 years.
The business is over, but the shelves are full of molds and forms before the glazing phase — so many of them that it looks like a potter’s studio, not that of a painter and photographer. Hernandez wasn’t sure if or how much of the stock she’s going to clear out by the time people visit her studio.
She’s also using the space as a headquarters for a new group of emerging artists — working class and of color — that she’s calling Crowned Brown. The idea is ultimately to form an organization to guide and support young artists who struggle to find studio space, financial advice, and other supports to launch a career.
How does she feel about strangers visiting her studio and surveying her work?
“I don’t feel nervous. I feel more excited to meet people who read about you and want to meet you. I want to know their reactions,” she added.
Following an opening reception at Artspace on Oct. 6, City Wide Open Studios runs this weekend, Oct. 7 and 8, in Westville, in the Goffe St. Armory Oct. 14 and 15, in private studios Oct. 21 and 22, and in Erector Square Oct. 28 and 29. Click here for more information.