The man with the can

Artist Adolfo Hernandez’s street art, inside and out

With its script-like swirls, stenciled layers and jewel bright hues, the work of Adolfo Hernandez Alvarado is instantly recognizable in Savannah.

Maybe you’ve seen his cityscape mural inside Midtown Deli. Or the coppery calligraphy climbing the columns at the Sparetime. If not, you’ve probably passed his giant green alien in the Starland District. Perhaps you haven’t had a chance to check out the third mural installation at Habersham and 34th streets yet—the paint is barely dry—but yes, he did that, too.

In graffiti, that kind of definitive marking is called a tag. In art, it’s an original aesthetic that can raise an artist to international fame, À la Banksy and Jean Michel Basquiat.

With private commissions stacking up near and far, Adolfo—who also goes by the street name Inope—may end up a breakout star. For now, however, he’s quite content in Savannah, where his wife, Araceli, is an engineer at Gulfstream and the independent art community continues to gain momentum.

His new exhibit, T Minus 10, features over 30 vibrant pieces painted with aerosol cans and weather–proof auto paint on non–traditional media: Found wood panels, metal signs, a 40–inch skill saw blade, unstretched canvases that look like tapestries out of Blade Runner. Sized to fit indoors, the paintings capture the sweeping urban vibe of his large wall works, blending influences from his native Mexico, local landscapes and outer space. The show opens at the Butcher Gallery on Friday, Nov. 2.

Adolfo is happily at home in the gallery world, yet public wall art remains his true passion. Born in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and hailing from the gang–infested streets of El Paso, Texas, Adolfo found himself directed into a community mural program “to stay out of trouble” during high school. The City of El Paso has encouraged public murals ever since artist and all–around Texas legend Tom Lea began painting neighborhood walls in the 1930s, as they boost morale and deter vandalism.

“The gangs respect the art once there’s a mural up,” he shrugs. “Very rarely will someone mess with it.”

Adolfo and two other members of the El Paso mural crew were offered scholarships to SCAD in 2002, where he studied motion graphics rather than mess with his personal painting process. Observing the many neglected buildings downtown, he laments the lack of public art walls in Savannah.

“I come from a place that is free with public art as long as you have permission,” says Adolfo. “When I got here, it was kind of a shock.”

Thanks to last year’s alliance between See Savannah Art Walls and the Metropolitan Planning Commission, public art is now a reality in the city, as long as proper protocol is followed. The first manifestation of the new city code, the wall at Habersham and 34th, has seen much transformation since Katherine Sandoz first laid out an abstract marsh scene across the concrete blocks last winter. Portraitist Troy Wandzel came next, adding flowers and local faces to Sandoz’s landscape, a layering effect that at first worried MPC members, then inspired them: When it was time for Adolfo to accompany SeeSAW co–founder Matt Hebermehl to the MPC hearing about the next installment on the mural, the commission gave him free reign.

“I had submitted two designs, one that went end to end and another that was just a section of the wall. They left it up to me,” says the artist also known as Inope. “And of course I wanted to preserve the composite collaboration.”

The result is a glorious visage surrounded by swirls, incorporating the elements of ocean, clouds and the sacred feminine archetype into the wall. At the center, a woman’s face looks out with strong, classic features and a stunning, ambiguously ethnic beauty, representing the city itself.

“In the U.S., Savannah is considered an old city, but compared to cities around the world—London, Cairo, places in China— it’s actually pretty young,” he explains. “I chose to represent Savannah as a woman not yet in her prime. There’s a lot to learn, much more room to grow.”

The new incarnation of the mural was celebrated Oct. 14 with a block party, where Adolfo, Hebermehl, Wandzel and others collaborated on a live painting of a trailer with renowned NYC street artist David Ellis. There Adolfo came up with an ingenious tool—a flat paintbrush attached to a handle that can be connected to an 8–foot pole—allowing him to reach even further heights with his signature script.

While it looks like it could be lifted from ancient scrolls found in a remote cave, this script—influenced by Arabic and Hebrew as well as Mayan hieroglyphics—doesn’t actually mean anything literal but is an abstract form that continues to echo throughout Adolfo’s work, on small pieces meant to go indoors and on those he creates outside.

“It’s like speaking in tongues,” he says of his process.

In regards to Savannah’s many blank walls, he hopes to continue collaborating with the city’s many street artists to create more public murals.

“I walk by these two, three, four story buildings and I imagine what could be.”

Artist’s Reception for Adolfo Hernandez aka Inope

When: Friday, Nov. 2, 7–10 p.m.

Where: The Butcher Gallery, 19 E. Bay St.

Cost: Free



About The Author

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Community Editor Jessica Leigh Lebos has been writing about interesting people, vexing issues and anything involving free food for more than 20 years. She introduces herself at cocktail parties as southern by marriage.
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