This week, I got a lesson in the imaginative handling of paint. The classroom was the beautiful, high-ceilinged main gallery at Victoria Miro in Islington. The teacher was Madrid-based Secundino Hernández. The subject, pictured below, is Minimar (2022): an enormous canvas which, despite its title, captures something cosmically vast. There are several paintings of his on show in this exhibition, but Minimar stood out.
I loved Hernández’s unmannered handling of his acrylic paints. His teasing blocks of colour into little peaks and valleys, dynamically arranging them across our field of vision. I’d say “cosmically vast” because to me the painting seems like a view of far galaxies, speckled white and yellow on a deep blue background. The show notes suggest something more earthbound, mentioning the “sedimentary layers” revealed on each canvas in the exhibition. And there are rocky tones interspersed in that blue. Or maybe the bright patches are microbes, cells, and it's a microscopic view of something cosmically... small?
Looking closer, we can see that Hernández added depth to his mounds of paint by adding patches of alkyd, a shiny polyester resin. Looked at from further away, these patches glisten under the gallery lights, like deposits of precious stones - or glimmers of starlight.
Whatever is being depicted, the message is in the paint. Its explosion of colour. Its dynamism - its almost total spontaneity.
I say almost: the work seems spontaneous but somehow also planned by a powerful organising vision. A clue to this vision comes in an intriguing detail, buried in the show notes: Hernández keeps his paints in a special room, stacked floor to ceiling, but rigorously organised both by colour and the size of its container. I'd bet that someone with that degree of meticulousness would think each brushstroke and colour choice through before touching the canvas.
Minimar isn’t a spontaneous action painting then. It’s guided by a plan, the outcome of which allows us to glimpse galaxies and microbes, before we reflect on what’s really in front of us. The colours - the resin - and most importantly, the paint itself.
Secundino Hernández: time TIME is at Victoria Miro (London). 11 October - 12 November 2022