By Emma Gould
Hernán Murno, a longtime student of The Art League, studied first with Art League instructors Susan Herron and Gwen Bragg and then moved into studying abstraction and acrylics with Marsha Staiger sand Beverly Ryan. In this installment of “Art Bites,” we look into the diptych of America Remembers/The Lives by Hernán Murno in the July open exhibit on view until August 4.
Murno’s strong, graphic lines are reminiscent of early American Abstraction art of the 1940s. American Abstractionist work rose from a time of political unrest in response to WWII, and looking at Murno’s piece, you have the feeling that the aesthetic choice was not only inspired by the abstract movement but also reflective of today’s unique political tensions. America Remembers/The Lives showcases an intersection between the formalist choices of aesthetic and choosing a technique that best fits an emotion. Similar to early Abstractionist art (think Mondrian’s bold black and white compositions), the quest was to find the “purest” output of an emotional relation to the medium of painting.
To learn more, we asked the artist about the emotions and ideas behind his piece, America Remembers/The Lives:
You mentioned this diptych is based on photographs you took? What is the process behind the completion of these and what photographs inspired them?
HM: “The idea for the series came from photographs I took in 2018 at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. I painted a triptych based on those photographs that reflects on the horrors of that tragic era. However, it is particularly alarming to me that some of the same ideas behind the holocaust are alive and growing in our divided country along with many other places around the world.
One day I saw in the Washington Post a picture of a service member grieving, seated at one of the benches that constitute the Pentagon 9/11 memorial. I felt compelled to go there myself. I felt the same overwhelming feeling of loss that I felt in Berlin. I did not need any new images because unlike the complexity of the memorial in Berlin, the design at the Pentagon is simple; the benches are aligned with the path Flight 77 took when crashing against the building. However, the opening of the cantilever shaped benches points either away or toward the Pentagon building. This depends on whether the victim was aboard the plane or in the building—my piece reflects that.”
Has witnessing the events of 9/11 in the United States influenced your aesthetic and artistic practice? How has being in Buenos Aires and the USA shaped your artwork?
HM: “In reality, my artistic practice was never influenced by those events [9/11]. If you look at the majority of my work you can see that the design, style and palette of the Memorial Series, is unique. Black and white are the predominant colors with only splashes of other colors representing fire, hope, and a nod to red-white-and blue.
This is not the way I normally paint, but, in my mind, the horrors of those events could only be depicted in black and white. In this, I have been influenced black-and-white film about the holocaust and—as it is also mass murder, [and] by association [related]—the 9/11 events.
Having grown-up in Buenos Aires and now [having lived] for nearly 40 years in the US, has given me [a sense of] diversity. You understand the world around you differently and more profoundly when you experience different cultures first hand. But, to be honest, I don’t try to paint like an Argentinean-born American, but just like me.”
How do you remember that day visually through your painting/s? How do the benches at the 9/11 Memorial visually impact your work?
HM: “My most vivid memory of the attack on the Pentagon is the plume of smoke that went on for days and could be seen as far as from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. That is what brought memories of the same sort of view I witnessed long ago in Buenos Aires. Planes flying so close to our balcony that I felt I could touch them, and the plumes of smoke lifting from where the bombs hit. The visual similarities are the common denominator.
As far as the benches itself, what compositionally attracted me the most was the direction they face, as that hold significant importance to the people that were either on the plane or in the Pentagon. At night, the benches are lit from colored lights that reflect up on the pool of water beneath each one. The black night background of the painting becomes slightly lighter at the top, fading to show the American colors and the dawn of a brighter future still ahead of us.”
And I’d love for you to expand upon why you focus on this particular topic/medium.
HM: “Discrimination, hate, ill-advised nationalism and violence towards Jews, Muslims, Latinos and others, are rampant in the United States and the world right now.
I have lived under a dictatorship and seen first-hand the dangers that discrimination and intolerance bring. During that country’s [Argentina’s] ‘Dirty War’ of the late 1970s and 80s, I lost a cousin who was particularly dear to me.
I am not normally a painter of political, socioeconomic, or environmental hot topics. However, I also needed to express the feelings and memories that manifestations of hate and vengeance have impressed in me throughout my life.”
About the Artist:
Hernán Murno was born in Buenos Aires where he attended a the National Conservatory of Music In Buenos Aires. He graduated with degrees piano, harpsichord and conducting and had a successful career both as a pianist and conductor. Upon retiring, Hernan decided to pursue painting, starting with watercolor, a medium that he describes as his “first love.” He studied at the Art League School in Alexandria with Susan Herron, Gwen Bragg, Steve Fleming and Deborah Ellis. In 2015, he became interested in abstraction and acrylics and, since then, has taken classes with Marsha Steiger and Beverly Ryan (also at the Art League). He also has attended several workshops in the U.S. and abroad, with teachers such as Susan Abbot and Eric Weigardt. Hernan has had pieces shown at the Art League Gallery in Alexandria as well as with the Fairfax Art League, Del Ray Artisans, VMRC in Harrisonburg, VA and others. Since his first award as Best Watercolor in an Art League’s School Student and Faculty show, he has been the recipient of several other prizes. In 2015, he was accepted by jury to become a member of the Potomac Valley Watercolorists.