Delving into the depths of her mind, Veronica Fernandez extricates and depicts memories that extend empathy to the viewer while capturing her father’s spirit. The Los Angeles-based, Virginia-born, and New Jersey and Miami-raised artist creates evocative works that tug on the dynamics of family and emotional understandings that exist within us all.
Speaking with Latina from an in-house audio studio, Fernandez opened up about her work’s intentions and the overwhelming support she has received from her first solo show at Sow and Tailor in Los Angeles, on view through July 17. Her show When you hold onto my spirit, will you let your spirit grow? encapsulates the lived experiences of both familial trauma and moments of tenderness.
With a drive to match her passion, Fernandez’s mission lends humanity to the complexities of life. Sifting through adverse experiences overcome by togetherness, the hyper-aware and deeply connected artist has approached the processing of these trying times through art. First sketching, then elevating her sketches into vibrant paintings and sculptures, Fernandez documents personal moments of housing insecurity and familial resilience. “When you’re younger, you don’t really understand it, but you feel the brunt of those emotions. One of the paintings in the show [“Take Shelter”] references us being in a shelter– we hit a low. I remember seeing him [my father], and he was really struggling. He had to realize, ‘Oh, I’m in this situation, and I have to get my kids out of the situation,’ it was a stressful time,” she explained.
Preparing for this show, Fernandez asked her grandmother for photographs to help contextualize the images that rested at the forefront of her mind. Digging through old boxes and photo albums, Fernandez witnessed memories of her father struggling, eliciting empathy within her. Using each photograph as a constant reference, Fernandez never construed a family member inaccurately, instead filling in the holes in her memory. Weaving intergenerational bonds throughout her work, with her grandmother acting as the family’s glue and her father a constant touchstone, Fernandez aimed to portray remembrances and the impact of her ancestry.
Grappling with her identity, a fusion of Latin America, Fernandez’s solo show depicts cultural specificities from Malta Goya bottles to vintage textiles, embracing her heritage. “I always try to incorporate little details, but that is also more Americanized because that’s what I can relate to. Growing up, I was very distanced from my roots. I’m Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Bolivian; I’m very mixed. […] I think a lot of people in the US grapple with this kind of assimilation into American culture,” Fernandez shared.
Intersecting an acceptance of self with creative ambition, Fernandez needed more than a canvas to express herself, exploring mixed media practices. From a pushcart topped with trash bags to a domestic scene of watching baseball, Fernandez opted for ready-made material for her sculpture work, drawing on its texture and bringing the backdrops of her paintings alive. “It’s like the artist is present here; somebody made themselves at home with all these details that really make up these mundane objects. It’s reflective of faith and the human experience despite your circumstances,” she expressed.
Accompanying Fernandez’s show, writer and curator Maria Vogel tapped into the essence of When you hold onto my spirit, will you let your spirit grow?, exploring the essence of the exhibit in an eloquently written essay. Vogul stated: “Every work Fernandez creates demands a close read; it’s impossible to grasp what is at play in each piece simply by glancing over the work. She imbues her craft with a sense of unfinishedness as a way to recognize the impermanence of emotion. For Fernandez, home is not a physical space, it’s made up of those who exist in the space. This notion is exemplified in the formal choices with which each piece is rendered. With When you hold onto my spirit, will you let your spirit grow?, Fernandez asks you to look into her memories and those of her family in order to see yourself in them. She is offering her rawest self in the hope that a piece of it leaves with you.”
Fernandez has succeeded in processing the memories that others may shy away from or be unable to confront. While a paint stroke may seem like a single action, it is a radical statement of acceptance and vulnerability to the young artist, isolating feelings that made up each memory. She explained, “I feel like I have to move forward. I can’t dwell on the negative. I know; nobody really did anything wrong. You forgive, and everybody’s human; everybody has their moments. I think when talking to other people, I realized that this [adversity can be] an overall experience for everyone.”
Understanding the power of growth and healing, Fernandez does not strive to create works akin to mere diary entries devoid of introspection. Instead, she illustrates the deepest parts of herself to draw in her community and, most importantly, her family. As a constant backboard and lifeline, Fernandez’s family has made it thus far through collective support and encouragement. Although her father and siblings saw her works in progress, awe overcame her whole family once they entered the space embellished with her masterful storytelling. “I don’t think it was fully understood until they [my family] saw the show put together. They were like, ‘Oh, shit, this is our experience.’ They liked the way that I made it universal, and it just made them feel so loved,” Fernandez said.
As the show runs through July 17 at Sow and Tailor, a Los Angeles art gallery supporting diverse thought and community-based programming, Fernandez begins closing this chapter, anticipating the next. With new projects already lined up, the busy artist values her point of view, expanding her body of work that resonates with many. “I’m working right now on a giant triptych for a museum show coming up. I’m so excited to get back to work immediately. Even after my solo, I love seeing the community engaged in my work. That love just makes me want to work more,” Fernandez said.
Spending months on end preparing for this triumphant show, Fernandez understands these personal moments will forever be captured but remains focused on continuing her practice. She stated, “Everyone goes through things. Everyone has complex paths and layers to them. So I always think about that when I work.” Carrying the spirit of not only her past self but also the spirit of her family, Fernandez’s solo show imbues a sense of collective exhale, cherishing times spent but appreciative of the challenges overcome. With sights set on the future, including new works to create, Fernandez hopes that the memory of When you hold onto my spirit, will you let your spirit grow? will stay with the viewer. Expressing vulnerabilities is often tricky, especially when crystallized in art. Still, the multi-layered artist is grateful that she can document her journey with her family by her side.