Jose Hernandez


On January 6th, 2000, I had two life-threatening experiences. I was in hospital after an accident at work and unexpectedly found myself in respiratory distress. As I fought for my life with every ounce of energy I could muster, I found myself in the most beautiful place I had ever seen, and it was very painful for me to leave.

My art is my attempt to capture and recreate the beauty, vibrancy, deep peace and tranquility of the 'living' colours I saw ‘on the other side’. My journey made me feel entirely whole which in itself completely transformed me and I want to share this healing experience. This awesome and profound event has since inspired me to create artwork that can take others into this world, to allow me to share those life-altering moments.

Prior to this experience I had never had any religious or metaphysical inclinations, although as a photographer I have always had a keen awareness of light, colour, movement, and a knack for composition. Whilst I don’t have formal art training and have spent many years as a photographer, I have never seen myself as an artist. Growing up in the streets of the Bronx with little money in our family, I undertook electrical engineering as an initial career choice. When I look back now, whilst I had no affinity for this trade at the time, I have begun to see how these two differing life paths have provided the technical and artistic background which now forms the foundation for how I now create my art. Initially I started creating art to use with my client’s in meditation, however now my art has taken on a journey of its own. My art is always changing, and I can look back and see how my life's journey has always been reflected in my art.

I have also somehow been graced with an ability to reach people of all ages and walks of life through my art. I am often told how much my images impact and touch people and I am always deeply touched by the response I get from people who experience my art pieces.

My art is expressed in a digital format and I create artworks from my own photographs which I modify and layer. For example, one picture might have as many as two or three hundred layers. Whilst the resultant images may be visually beautiful, my main intent in creating them is to take the viewer into another dimension. Each piece has been created to be a portal, to assist the viewer regain a sense of wholeness, peace and calm.

Digital technology is the closest I have been able to get to replicating the vibrancy and power of the colour I experienced ‘on the other side’, and it seems to be the only medium capable of capturing the healing grace of what I saw there. When people ask me how I make the images, I truthfully can't tell them. I seem to go into another space when I am creating them and I can't reproduce them myself even when I try. Each image takes many hours to produce and I know it is finished when I feel it. Each one has a life and energy of its own.

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”
    Aristotle, 384 BC – 322 BC

Art as a Healing Modality

It may seem obvious to many that art can have a healing effect - the connection goes as far back in human history as we can document. There is clear evidence of the association of visual art with healing since Ancient Egyptians painted murals in their healing temples eg. blue ceilings to represent the sky, green floors to represent the earth.

In Ancient Greece not only were hospitals decorated with beautiful paintings, they were also endowed with statues of healthy athletes to inspire the ill.

In more recent history, art in healthcare facilities has had dubious value since the type of art depicted in healthcare settings has been of three main types: religious art depicting the glory of heaven and the trials of earth; honorary art depicting donors with little meaning to patients and worse still, medical art which graphically illustrates diseases and medical procedures such as surgery.

A major shift is now taking place in healthcare toward patient-centered care. As the focus shifts toward the patient’s experience and contribution toward his own well-being, this is being reflected in the physical environment. The cutting edge trend in healthcare has begun to incorporate visual art created specifically to calm and relax patients in hospital rooms, with the knowledge that this type of visual aid can have profound healing effects, including symptom control and pain management. Art in the healthcare setting needs to be visually appealing.

Perhaps most notable in sanctioned studies of art in a healthcare setting is the research undertaken by Dr. Roger Ulrich from Texas A&M University, who has measured the effect of art on medical outcomes. According to the article “The Arts of Healing” published in 1999 in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Medical News and Perspectives, his findings indicate that “psychologically appropriate art can substantially affect outcomes such as blood pressure, anxiety, intake of pain medication and length of hospital stay.” Conversely, Mr. Ulrich also said that "certain research indicates that types of emotionally challenging, provocative works of art can actually worsen stress, pain and other outcomes. These works can sometimes include, for example, critically acclaimed, quality paintings."

According to an August 1997 article published in The Lancet, which also draws on Ulrich’s studies, “Recent research has provided evidence that the overall hospital environment (in which art can have a vital role) does have an important impact.” Investigating the effects of visual stimulation on the rate of recuperation Ulrich found “that patients with vibrant surroundings … recovered three-quarters of a day faster, and needed fewer painkillers than those with dull surroundings.

These studies indicated that "healing art" could affect the autonomic nervous system, hormonal balance, brain neurotransmitters, the immune system and the blood flow to all organs in the body. Neurophysiologists have further determined that art connects us to the worlds of imagery, emotion, visions and feelings.

In 2004, the Arts Council in England commissioned a landmark study (Staricoff, 2004) which included a review of 385 references from the medical literature related to the effect of the arts in health care. This publication effectively launched the first national arts and healthcare strategy (Arts Council England 2005).

The report offers important evidence of the influence of the arts in achieving effective approaches to patient management and to the education and training of health practitioners. It also identifies the relative contributions that different art media could have in creating therapeutic health care environments.

The report concludes by highlighting the importance of the arts in healthcare in the following areas, all of which hold relevance to health psychology (Staricoff, 2004, p.47):

• Inducing positive physiological and psychological changes in clinical outcomes
• Reducing drug consumption
• Shortening length of stay in hospital
• Increasing job satisfaction of health care workers
• Promoting better doctor-patient relationships
• Improving mental health care
• Developing health practitioners’ empathy across gender and cultural diversity

In a 2008 article by Sarajane Eisen et al, “Undertaking an Art Survey to Compare Patient Versus Student Art Preferences’, published in Environment and Behaviour, it was reported that “there is a growing body of evidence on using art as a positive distraction to improve health outcomes.”

At a time when a patient may feel at his lowest, out of control of his own body, and fearful of what outcomes may lie ahead, this connection and avenue for grace and beauty can be critical in the healing process.

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead… his eyes are closed."
Albert Einstein, 1879 – 1955

Trinity represents the three states of being: the physical body, the ethereal soul and the eternal spirit. They are the three tangents of light that combine creating the essence of life.

Vision Quest is a flower that represents the cradle of life, a point of evolution in a sea of blue. It is that place where we have the foresight to see, that threshold, that birth point. Like a lotus flower, it is the birthing place of a higher consciousness.

Fall into Blue is about finding the answers to the questions of who, what, and why I am. The yellow and red at the core represent the aspect of the physical being of our humanity, while the deep and rich blues that rotate around us represent the consciousness of the universe we live in. It has a staccato electricity that creates a vortex drawing you to the centre of the image.

Read the full article in the Artist Profile in Issue 29


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