February 1, 2011

Since Ana Fernandez's grandmother died in 1991, the artist has had a recurring dream.

In it, she is compelled to return to her grandmother's home - recently demolished - in Corpus Christi.

"I feel like I forgot something, and I need to go in there and get it," Fernandez says.

Homes and what their exteriors both reveal and conceal about the inhabitants are a source of fascination for Fernandez, and the subject of a series of paintings. An exhibit of her work opens with a reception 6 p.m. Thursday at Joan Grona Contemporary Art, 112 Blue Star.

Curated by Arturo Almeida, it is Fernandez's first solo show since she moved back to San Antonio a little more than a year ago. Though she previously had one-woman exhibits in Chicago and Los Angeles, where she attended the School of the Art Institute and the University of California, she considers this her first real solo show "because it's the first one where I'm really happy with my work," she says.

The exhibit includes 15 works, including oil paintings and graphite drawings, of houses, particularly modest, weathered casitas such as those typical of San Antonio's West Side and South Side barrios.

Works such as 210, a nighttime image of a 1940s-style wood structure where Halloween and Christmas decorations, a Spurs banner and a pair of mating dogs chronicle the passage of time, are imbued with a sense of the unseen occupants' presence.

"I kind of see them like portraits," Fernandez says of the paintings and drawings. "It's a traditional landscape but also kind of a portrait of the house itself, maybe the people that live there. Maybe something that's inside kind of comes out."

Fernandez, who teaches drawing at San Antonio College, works from photographs. She sometimes conflates details of different houses and adds fictional elements to create a narrative. In 717, for example, Fernandez incorporated a red-and-white, heart-shaped balloon wreath into the image of a small house illuminated solely by Christmas lights and a carpet of stars visible through bare tree limbs.

"I like to think of them almost as backdrops, like landscape backdrops to some kind of story or drama that's happening," she says.

Home for Fernandez is a Southtown duplex with high ceilings that she shares with a 100-pound pit bull-mastiff mix named Smoky and a dark brindle French bulldog named Geeta. Her living room, which doubles as a studio, is dominated by large canvases and metal shelves holding supplies, including glass jars of murky thinner with thick layers of paint sediment at the bottom.

Originally from Corpus Christi, Fernandez moved to San Antonio when she was 16. After high school, she attended San Antonio College before leaving to go to school in Chicago. After graduating from UCLA with a master's degree in painting in 2004, Fernandez intended to return to San Antonio. She stayed in L.A., however, after she landed a job "that I couldn't leave" screening images for a custom postage web business. Fernandez was laid off in 2009 when the company eliminated her department.

"It was actually the best thing that possibly could have happened to me because I moved back here; I started painting this series; I got a great job at SAC, which I've always wanted to work at SAC," she says. "I mean, everything has gone great."

 

lsilva@express-news.net