Los Angeles-based Judithe Hernandez is a Chicana figurative artist whose work is political in nature and deals with strong feminist themes. She originally gained prominence as a muralist. Her work also encompasses paintings and pastel drawings primarily of women. These works often fuse traditional Western art with Mexican and Chicano themes. In most of her pastel works, Hernandez uses black paper for the background which intensifies her use of strong colors and sets off her figures against the darkness of a night sky. Motifs of sun, deer, flowers, and even the devil are the inspiration for her drawings’ archetypal style.
In 1972, Hernandez received her B.F.A. from the Otis Art Institute (now Otis College of Art and Design) and in 1979 her M.F.A. also from Otis. She was especially influenced by one of her professors – the African American artist Charles White who became her mentor. She was part of the Chicano Art Movement and a founding figure of Los Angeles’s mural movement. In 1974, she became the fifth and only female member of the East Los Angeles Chicano artists collective, “Los Four.” Hernandez’s experience in the 1970 anti-Vietnam War protests, that turned violent, shaped her as an artist. “I measure everything from that moment . . . There was no way we could stand by. You must do something. You must step in.”
In the early 1980s, Hernandez moved to Chicago and before returning to Los Angeles 25 years later had a solo exhibition at the National Museum of Mexican Art. Hernandez has made murals in public art projects in Los Angeles. The first one was her 1977 “Homenaje a Las Mujeres de Azlan,” done in collaboration with the late artist Carlos Almaraz, one of “Los Four,” at the Ramona Gardens Housing Project in East Los Angeles. This work is still intact.
In 2012, Hernandez was one of the artists who helped inaugurate the America Tropical Interpretive Center on L.A.’s Olvera Street, the center of El Pueblo and the historic founding site of Los Angeles. This Interpretive Center honored Mexican artist David Siqerios and his gigantic mural, “American Tropical.” In 2019 in this same historic neighborhood, Hernandez was one of four Mexican American artists who made murals for the new LA Plaza Village complex. Her mural, “La Nueva Reina,” stands seven-stories tall and shows a beautiful, young Mexican woman in traditional dress with flowers in her hair. Flowers and a colorful crescent moon in the sky serve as the work’s background.
Hernandez’s pastel works are often influenced by the paintings of modern and traditional artists. Her 2013 “Maidens of the Barrio” is a feminist reworking of Picasso’s 1907 “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” Her work is a large, two-panel drawing of brothel workers in Barcelona, and their brooding images reflect many of her feminist themes.
Her 2017 “The Unknown Saint” is made from two large panels more than 7 feet wide. It shows a young indigenous woman lying horizontally over a Mexican desert landscape with her hands raised in prayer. Illuminated by a full moon the beautiful saint is wrapped in a richly colored flower-embroidered garment in a reworking of John Everett Millais’s 1851-1852 “Ophelia.” Hernandez’s saint not only recalls the doomed heroine of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” but also the unsolved kidnappings and murders of girls and young women in Juarez, Mexico. This work is part of her ongoing “Juarez Series,” which focuses on their disappearance. It is estimated that up to two thousand young women were murdered, and their deaths have never been acknowledged by the Mexican government.
Her work was shown in Southern California’s 2017-18 “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A., 1945-1980.” In 2018, her work “La Virgen del la Oscuridad” became the featured image of the permanent exhibition “Becoming Los Angeles” at Los Angeles’s Natural History Museum. Her 2019 exhibition at MOLAA (Museum of Latin American Art): “Judithe Hernandez: A Dream Is the Shadow of Something Real” consisted of twenty-one pastel drawings on paper. It was the first solo exhibition of a Chicana artist in the museum’s 22 year history.
Her work is in the permanent collections of Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum, National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, Vincent Price Art Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Museum of Modern Art, and MOLAA among others.