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Jesse Sierra Hernandez has finally arrived.

The fortysomething painter started out nearly two decades ago as a sort of scenester-slash-bon vivant-slash-autodidact who was arguably more popular personally than his artwork. Which is not to say people didn’t love his sumptuous female nudes or pop cult-influenced mises en scene. But as a regular at the most popular underground music venue in town, The Wreck Room –– and for a while his studio was adjacent to the stage –– Hernandez established his brand the old-fashioned way: one (or seven) Modelo Especials at a time.

For him, the larger gallery world remained mostly out of reach. Self-taught, Hernandez had neither the connections nor the paper (no MFA, no BFA) to unlock the doors of Artspace 111 or William Campbell Contemporary Art. Relegated to the party scene (now referred to as the pop-up scene), Hernandez kept on painting and kept on exhibiting, mostly in nontraditional spaces. Somewhere between the maturation of Fort Worth –– however slight, however incremental –– and getting hitched (congrats!), he broke free from his previous conceits. At a show at Gallery 414 in 2003, Hernandez hinted at his future by presenting a powerful sprawling battle scene. “Cortez the Killer” was packed with conquistadors and striking swords. And blood. It was shocking. It was revolutionary. No one else in town had ever even considered a tableau as classically influenced or as pertinent. (The U.S. invasion of Iraq had just commenced.) What happened to the babes, Jesse? And, aside from the title, the pop-culture references? And why so much anger and pain?

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Hernandez simply was preparing himself for his current exhibit. Hanging now through November 22 at Gallery 414, Inside the Lines is a couple dozen paintings that stretch from glorious female nudes to homages to the old masters to, perhaps the best part, semi-conceptualisms.

In some pieces, the emphasis is less on the brushwork, more on the concept. Which is totally cool. Much in the way that some old masters depicted Jesus among 16th-century soldiers, Hernandez shows the messiah flanked by men and women in camouflage. The song remains the same: War is hell.

By bringing thought to his muscular work, Hernandez joins a stellar group of young photorealists. Michelle Brandley, James Lassen, and Devon Nowlin, to name just a few, also have the technical skill to reproduce any photo or image they see. What they’re doing that draws you in and keeps you looking –– and isn’t that the point of all artwork? to keep viewers engaged? –– is adding subtext. Adding dimensions, adding layers, adding thought.

Like Lassen, who devoted an entire exhibition to mobile technology’s intrusion into our lives last year (Textual Healing), Hernandez serves up a cell phone piece. A sea of upraised hands attached to cameraphones and camcorders face the Mona Lisa, the masterwork hanging on a beige wall. Hernandez, who works mainly from photographs and models, captured the image at The Louvre during his extensive travels abroad, helped along by his day job as an art handler for the Kimbell Art Museum. (Look for the guy in the Yankees ball cap.)

“I have different things I want to say, so I use paint to say those things,” he said. “People might not know this, but I’ve always had a stutter, so, y’know, and a lot of times I get cut off, or people think they need to speak for me, so when I paint, I can just say what I want to say, without being interrupted.”

Hernandez started working on the show about three years ago. “I was due for another show,” he said.

414, he said, “has enough space, has enough different rooms, and since I do enough different types of art, I could show that.”

The good news, at least for some of us, is that the babes haven’t really gone away. They’ve just been set a little to the side to make room for work that will get non-pervs talking. And thinking.

 

[box_info]Inside the Lines
by Jesse Sierra Hernandez
Thru Nov 22 at Gallery 414, 414 Templeton Dr, FW. Free, by appointment. 817-336-6595.[/box_info]

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