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‘Eccentric’ art explored in new encyclopedia

Posted: Thursday, Jan 2nd, 2014

Jo Farb Hernandez of Watsonville shows her new book, "Singular Spaces." (Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

WATSONVILLE — Jo Farb Hernandez said she wanted to create an encyclopedia of a little-studied genre of art.

So she headed out to Spain to study Spanish art environments, known as works by those who have no formal art training that takes the shape of buildings, gardens, sculptures and other architectural marvels.

The end result is “Singular Spaces: From the Eccentric to the Extraordinary in Spanish Art Environments,” a large, hardcover coffee table book that, combined with an included CD, contains more than 1,100 pages and 5,000 photos.

“I’m glad to bring some visibility to these artists,” Hernandez said. “It’s a genre of art that really hasn’t been as studied as other kinds of art. And it certainly needs to be. These artists are bringing such creativity to their work.”

The Watsonville resident, who is a professor of art at San Jose State University, did the bulk of her research for the book in 2008, meeting with the artists and examining their works.

Most of the 45 artists studied in the book were very welcoming to her presence, Hernandez said, as they were willing to share their works.

Often referred to as “outsider” artists, they consist of mostly retired “general people,” she said. They are not artists or architects by trade, instead their professions range from sailors, farmers, factory workers and a variety of others.

But Hernandez is quick to point out that the term “outsider” is not a fitting description for these people. Despite not having any formal art training, their passion for their work is “unmatched,” she said.

“There’s this kind of rebellion,” she said. “They didn’t go to art school, and I love that.”

It is these artists who often fall through the cracks, Hernandez said, as they start their art journey later in life and don’t get much exposure outside of their own communities.

Hernandez found that after retirement, these artists still have the energy to do something productive with their time. Most of the works start out small, such as a bird bath, and often crafted out of found objects like brick or broken glass.

“It’s a completely wide range of aesthetics, media and intention,” she said.

But what sets these works apart from a traditional art piece is the fact that it is constantly changing, whether the artist adds more to it the next year, or changes something else the next month.

“They’re constantly evolving the same time that they’re constantly complete,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said her book is one of the first to examine these artists in depth, and for many of these artists, it is the first time their work has been published.

Like any encyclopedia, the book is not meant to be read in chronological order, according to Hernandez. Readers can browse the book at random and pick an artist’s work they want to explore, whether it be topiary or a self-made chapel, among many other works.

In October, Hernandez showed her photos of the Spanish artists’ works at the Natalie and James Thompson Art Gallery at San Jose State, a gallery she is also the director of. She plans to show the exhibit at other galleries in the near future.

Hernandez holds a master’s degree in art at UC Los Angeles.

She is also director of SPACES, an Aptos-based organization that is dedicated to preserving art environments around the world.


“Singular Spaces: From the Eccentric to the Extraordinary in Spanish Art Environments” can be purchased on Amazon.com.

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