Oscar L. Hernandez paints in the studio he briefly rented in Roswell. (Courtesy Photo)
Oscar L. Hernandez, 31, said that three years ago, when he decided to live entirely off his art, people laughed in his face.
They said that without artistic training or connections, a career in art wasn’t feasible.
“I had a lot of people say you’re not gonna make it,” the Roswell resident said. “I wanted to try it. I had to try it or I’ll never know.”
What started as an experiment has bloomed into a successful career as a painter. Work by Hernandez will be displayed at the State Land Office Commissioner’s Gallery in Santa Fe for the month of November.
Learning his work would be displayed was “almost like a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Before he began supporting himself entirely by painting on canvas, Hernandez transported equipment for oil rigs. He also worked at a medical clinic for a time. He would paint house interiors for extra money.
He said he always tried to bring a creative touch to the painting of walls—hand texturing, multi-tone colors, a “leather” finish. Eventually, the work gave way to painting on canvas as a hobby. The friends whose homes he painted would let him use their houses as studios.
Using friends’ houses as studios led to using friends’ houses to promote his work. Hernandez began hosting home showings for his acquaintances and their acquaintances. His network grew.
He said his last house show in October 2012 was his breakthrough moment.
“The response I got and the commission work that came after all of that really sent me into another gear where I knew this is what I wanted to do.”
Hernandez’s art is characterized by bold colors and hand texturing. He prefers his fingers to the paintbrush much of the time.
Many of his paintings depict silhouettes against the backdrop of a sunset. Born in Tucumcari and raised in Roswell, he likes to paint Southwestern landscapes and images that reflect his experiences.
One of his paintings shows the outline of an oil rig against a bold blue and orange twilight background. Another painting, “Life and Death,” features a sunflower and bull skull in black and white.
Hernandez paints with acrylics, though he prefers oil paint. He said he does this because acrylic dries faster. This allows him to move his paintings on and off the bed of his truck and throughout the rooms in his home.
He doesn’t have a studio though he briefly rented one. He prefers to paint outdoors, where he said he gets most of his inspiration.
“One day, we were hunting and we stopped at a waterhole and there were two horses drinking out of a water hole,” he recounted.
He painted it.
The artist said success has come more quickly than he ever expected. He remembered how three years ago, just before he began his experiment of living off his art, he was in a gallery in Santa Fe when he thought to himself that he was capable of the same quality of work.
With his show at the State Land Office in Santa Fe, he’s come full circle.
“This is awesome. It’s a start of where I wanted to be,” he said.
The change in lifestyle, while rewarding, has not been easy according to Hernandez. He has had to adjust to not having a regular paycheck, he said.
Work by Hernandez will be displayed locally at the Pecos Valley Potters’ Guild Art Sale Nov. 8 through 10. In the past, his work has been hung at Pecos Flavors Winery and other local businesses.
Aside from participating in art shows, the artist has completed a set of illustrations for a children’s book about the friendship of a Husky named Max and a bluebird named Augie.
“I’m just to the point where I’m doing what I feel good about,” said Hernandez. “I like what I’m doing.”