A Little Rock-based agency highlights Hispanic artists in Arkansas.
Artists are often not as well-known as the murals they create and that’s the way José Hernández prefers it.
“I like to promote my work instead of myself,” he says.
Over the past few years, Hernández has been involved with the 7th Street Mural Project in Little Rock. Since 2015, artists have created murals under a pair of railroad overpasses on West 7th Street and last summer, Hernández added a portrait of George Floyd to the colorful concrete walls. Social issues affecting the community are the focus of his work and because murals are public art, they provide a way to create a dialogue about these topics with the thousands of people who pass by.
“That’s what I’m trying to do — educate, inform or just make you think and plant that little seed in there,” he says. “Maybe [it will] grow into a bigger idea and even inspire you to do something else or even make your day better.”
Originally from Mexico, Hernández moved to Jonesboro in 1993. He took graphic design and painting courses at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia before returning to Arkansas in 2010. While traveling, Hernández says he noticed graffiti and murals as he stared out the car window. He fell in love with the artform in part because of its accessibility to the masses.
“It’s something that everybody can see. It’s not just in galleries where just a select few can go,” he says.
Today Hernández is a full-time artist with his own studio and gallery in Little Rock called Dedicated Visual Art Studio & Gallery. While he is based in Central Arkansas, Hernández has created artwork in other parts of the state. In 2020, for example, he participated in the inaugural Sprayetteville Street Art Festival where he created a mural in Fayetteville.
In addition to murals, Hernández also creates smaller works like paintings that are sometimes promoted through The Latino Art Project, an agency that promotes Hispanic culture, artists and subject matter through the visual arts. While he is not an artist himself, owner Will Hogg says he has always loved art and created The Latino Art Project to support Hispanic artists.
“Living and working here in Central Arkansas, I discovered that I didn’t see very much art by Latino artists,” he says. “Whether it be in galleries or exhibitions, it just seemed like there was an absence of any representation of Latino artists.”
In 2015, Hogg organized an exhibition featuring Latino artists as a fundraiser for a nonprofit he works with called Seis Puentes Hispanic Outreach. The event was a “smashing success” and afterward, Latino artists approached Hogg about participating in future exhibitions. The positive reaction to the fundraising exhibit prompted him to create The Latino Art Project which has since hosted more than 50 exhibits that have featured artists from around the state and the country. Some artists living abroad have also submitted works, Hogg says.
“It’s been pretty cool to bring in artists from different parts of the country, different parts of the world even, and exhibit that art here in Arkansas and showcase these Latino artists that again, I don’t see get a lot of the representation that they deserve,” he says.
With The Latino Art Project, Hogg shares artwork through exhibitions and online marketing for free, though he does take a commission if a piece is sold. Muralist José Hernández says the agency provides a helpful service to full-time artists who don’t have time to promote their work.
“He’s passionate about it and he really cares, which is important because a lot of promoters just do it for the money and it shows,” Hernández says.
In addition to supporting artists, The Latino Art Project helps promote culture and eliminates divisions between communities.
“I think that helps break those barriers and opens up people’s horizons and eyes to something more of our culture,” Hernández says. “We’re not just people that come here to work, we’re also artists and entrepreneurs and all kinds of people.”