Artists Bring Abstraction to the Thacher Gallery

Alexander Hernandez’s displayed pieces. PHOTO BY ELISE EMARD/SF FOGHORN

The role of a spectator in art adopted an entirely new meaning on Aug. 25 at the opening of the Thacher Gallery during the premiere of exhibitions “Soft Power” by Alexander Hernandez and “Lost Keys: Recent Works” by Mercy Hawkins. Attendees of the opening event had the opportunity to engage with the exhibit through doodling patterns and phrases directly onto one of Hernandez’s interactive fabric sculptures. 

The exhibition is consistently out of the ordinary from what one may expect from a typical gallery experience – an emptied bag of Takis dangles from a quilt, cloth human forms lay cradling each other on the floor, beautiful portraits are completed by chicken legs and zebra hooves – and these rarities are exactly what seemed to entice viewers the most. Conversation amongst fascinated viewers buzzed in harmony with a soundtrack of smooth instrumentals. 

Some viewers were drawn to what seemed to be a giant fabric venus fly trap, by artist Mercy Hawkins.

Born in southwestern Mexico, Hernandez drew inspiration from his Mexican upbringing to create vibrant quilt and sculpture projects that explore the intersectional identities of Latinx, queer, and HIV positive individuals. With its unique medium and recognizable pop-culture references, his work effortlessly captures viewers’ attention. “Seeing all the colors sparked a childlike curiosity in me,” said second-year nursing major Amaya Muniz. 

Featured in Hernandez’s exhibit for the first time is “Stayin’ Positive,” a collection of self-described “Frankenstein-like” textile portraits of fantastical, part-human creatures. The eccentric alterations made to these portraits are an ode to the resilience of Latinx and people of color living with HIV. With bold colors and textured elements, the portraits celebrate the rich lives of survivors, full of humor and joy. 

Hernandez’s complex artistry is exemplified by textiles depicting abstract animal legs and bodies hanging from human faces, creating a row of whimsical three-dimensional creatures that left a lasting impression on spectators.

“There’s a lot of queer students at this school that I think would understand my work and really get something out of it,” said Hernandez.

Hernandez’s work is complemented by the other exhibition at the Thacher Gallery, “Lost Keys: Recent Works” by Sacramento based artist and professor Mercy Hawkins.

Hawkins utilizes her collaborative style of fabrics and sculpture to showcase her love for music and nature. While many of her pieces are three dimensional sculptures, they are patched together by scraps of vibrant fabric, like quilts. It’s as if the quilts came to life and grew fighting against the elements of the natural world. 

Hawkin’s art can be found in the Kalmanovitz Hall atrium and sculpture garden, as well as the Thacher Gallery. Her installations at USF are immersive tributes to patterns in the natural world, and in music, as both are inspirations for her work. 

“So much of how I interpret the world begins and ends with music,” said Hawkins. “I can see what I hear and hear what I see, and it’s all working in concert together.” Hawkins describes the colors and structure in her work as being the physical representation of her favorite music. 

Hawkins’ installation on the sculpture garden is named “A Place in the Sun,” a piece created to make the audience feel as though they are standing on the sun. Bright yellow rays poke up out of the sculpture garden roof and blue fountains of color flow from the rooftop planters. “As you look down, you’ll feel the sun above you, and you’ll hopefully feel more present in that celestial relationship,”  said Hawkins.

Hawkins’ and Hernandez’s work will be available to view in the Thacher Gallery and on the Kalmanovitz Hall Sculpture Terrace until Nov. 6.

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