Laguna Beach sculptor joins selection committee for Florence art show

Nick Hernandez of Laguna Beach with two of his standout pieces “Goddess Guitar” and “Inner-vision Bass Guitar” at Woods Cove Art Studio & Gallery on July 27. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Laguna Beach sculptor Nick Hernandez feels like his career is getting a second wind.

Hernandez, 76, has been named to the International Selection Committee that will choose which artists can submit their work to the Florence Biennale 2023 in Florence, Italy. A separate jury will decide which artists take home the Lorenzo il Magnifico International Award for Art and the Leonardo da Vinci International Award for Design.

In a phone interview from his Coast Highway art gallery and studio, Hernandez said he was grateful and honored to be asked to join the selection committee.

“When I got that, it felt like a rebirth of my career,” Hernandez said.

This will be a return trip for Hernandez who entered his work in Florence Biennale 2005 when he won the fourth place award for sculpture based on his piece “Emergence.” In 2011, the same sculpture was installed at Chapman University after being donated by then-president Jim Doti and his wife, Lynne Doti.

While the Florence Biennale doesn’t carry the same international cache as Art Basel or Biennale Venice, Hernandez’s participation in the selection committee is noteworthy, said Peter Blake, a city councilmember and owner of Peter Blake Gallery.

“The fact that a local artist is getting any type of exposure on another continent is a great thing,” Blake said.

These days, Hernandez creates his wood carvings out of Woods Cove Art Studio & Gallery. A self-described hippie and practicing Buddhist, Hernandez grew out his ponytail during a trip to Mexico to complete several art commissions in April 2020. But when the U.S.-Mexico border was closed to nonessential travel to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, he was forced to quarantine at the Baja California home of his son Nick Hernandez, Jr., vocalist and ukulele player for the American reggae band Common Sense.

Hernandez spent this period carving wood on the beach so the separation from his beloved Laguna Beach actually sparked creativity, he said.

“Everything that I do is supported and born of meditation,” Hernandez said. “I’m afraid not to meditate.”

Among Hernandez’s favorite pieces is a sleek, black guitar carved into the shape of a woman’s body. He created the playable electric guitar called “Goddess Guitar” 20 years ago. It’s attracted so much interest from the music community over the last two decades that he crafted an accompanying base guitar called “Inner-vision Bass Guitar” six months ago—the name was inspired by a hollow portion of the base where a woman’s side profile stares into empty space.

Although Hernandez was an avid guitar player in his youth, he claims to have lost much of his skill after not exercising this musical muscle over the years.

“I can riff to make you think I can play guitar,” Hernandez said.

Earlier this year, Hernandez was invited to display the electric and bass guitars at the 2022 NAMM Show in Anaheim, the nation’s largest music industry convention. He’s received offers to buy both but can’t bear to part with them yet.

“They are as much sculptures as they are a performance piece,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez start sculpting at 46 years old. Through friends, he was introduced to then-Sen. Barbara Boxer who commissioned him to create a gift for former President Bill Clinton and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2001. The wood carving of their daughter Chelsea soaring over the mountains was temporarily displayed in the White House before being moved to the Clintons’ New York home, Hernandez said.

Reflecting on this and other career achievements, including earning his doctorate of arts from the Attallah College of Educational Studies at Chapman University, Hernandez said feels optimistic about the next chapter of his life.

“I realized I could have another 10 or 20 years and it will be the best years of my life,” he said. “Right now, I feel so reinvigorated and inspired to keep going.”

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