Judithe Hernández’s exhibition title—Beyond Myself, Somewhere, I Wait for My Arrival—is more than a moving line of poetry from Octavio Paz, it could be a nod to the surprising fact that The Cheech’s show is, somehow, the first major career retrospective for a gifted, acclaimed, and beloved artist whose historic oeuvre spans more than five decades. But as poetry, the line speaks directly to Hernández’s sensibility—a heady, elegant mixture of magic realism, feminist surrealism, archetypal symbolism, mythological narratives, modern realities, and full-throated aesthetic gorgeousness sparked by her cultural heritage but available to anyone who ever took the scenic route to self-discovery.

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Judithe Hernández: Lacrimosa, 2021, Pastel on paper (Courtesy of the artist and Craig Krull Gallery)

Across more than 80 large and larger-scale pastel paintings on paper, Hernández painstakingly unpacks, illustrates, and embodies myriad aspects of Latina existence in dreamlike scenes of individuality and destiny that double as resistance to colonial and patriarchal erasure. Her subjects, compositions and titles are explicit about her social and political testimonies; her early background in social justice activism, community muralizing, and as the “fifth member” of the celebrated Chicano artist collective Los Four leave no doubt. Her ambition has been racial, gender, and economic equality the whole time, achieving visibility and parity for her community in the art world and everyone in the entire world.

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Judithe Hernández: Dreams between the earth and sky, 2018, Pastel on paper (Courtesy of the artist and Craig Krull Gallery)

The same Octavio Paz poem also contains the lines: “If this beginning is a beginning / it does not begin with me / I begin with it / I perpetuate myself in it,” which speaks to her evocation of ancestral, folkloric, literary history to interpret archetypal images—especially botanical and animal companions, poignant interior scenes, and enchanted landscapes. Her luxurious palette of velvety indigo, radiant fuchsia, hot blood orange, minty sage, and royal lavender infuse every image with an entire universe of optical choreography and emotional musicality. But the throughline is always the female figure, the protagonist of every scene, the source and destination of every story, the enduring star of every dream, even when absent from the picture.

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Judithe Hernández: Somewhere, beyond myself, I await for my arrival, 2023, Pastel on paper, 32 x 48 in (Courtesy of the artist and Craig Krull Gallery)

For example, in the cornerstone work which shares its title with the show, Hernández presents a theatrical space, a kind of dream diorama. I’s a bedroom or dressing room, an intimate space. A white ceremonial gown (wedding, christening, quinceanera?) is slung over a red thatched chair; just before or just after it would be worn. Matching slippers are on the floor nearby, along with a spray of floating lily pads in blossom, at which a young deer delicately nibbles. Behind, an uneven row of windows (picture frames? Altarpiece panels?) show or reveal trees in winter, a floating nude—wait, the sky out the window, its fluffy clouds, shortening light and blue sky is not only out the window, it is the entire picture plane and our room is floating in its expanse.

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Judithe Hernández: The Abduction of Anahuac, 2023, Pastel on paper (Courtesy of the artist and Craig Krull Gallery)

This kind of dream logic and classically formulated surrealism puts Hernández in the company of recently resurgent celebrated 20th-century painters like Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Magritte, and Dorothea Tanning—but also in literary company that further includes Paz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Clarice Lispector. Like those and other figures who practiced and elevated the affecting styles of magic realism, the success of the work depends on the caliber of the “realism” part. And at this, Hernández excels as well, in large part due to early encouragement from her mentor while at Otis College, the legendary African American figurative artist Charles White, who took her penchant for narrative and technique—and her desire to uplift the true stories of her community—quite seriously at a time when conceptualism and abstract expressionism were fighting it out for the top spot.

Judithe Hernandez and Cheech Marin

Judithe Hernández and Cheech Marin

“Chicano art was always political art,” Marin often says. “Not only are these works beautiful and complex, but they also raise visibility for social justice issues, and shape our popular, political, and cultural consciousness.” So maybe it shouldn’t take an institution like The Cheech—dedicated to the support and study of Chicano art from a perspective both within and outside of conventional art history—to bring an exhibition like this into being. But it did, and not only is this show an apex example of the young institution’s core mission, it’s a clear reminder of the power of finding your voice, and waiting patiently for yourself to arrive.

Judithe Hernández: Beyond Myself, Somewhere, I Wait for My Arrival is on view through August 4 in Riverside; $15.95 general admission; riversideartmuseum.org.


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Judithe Hernández: En mis suenos soy una novia, 2019, Pastel on paper (Courtesy of the artist and Craig Krull Gallery)

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Judithe Hernández, installation view at The Cheech

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Judithe Hernández Opening Night at The Cheech (Photo: Osceola Refetoff)















































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