One thing I can tell you about Colombians is that they are very nationalistic; the most popular soda there is a bright orange fizzy drink of tamarindo called “Colombiana”, lollipops are called “colombinas” and beer adverts usually involve curveous babes in tiny tiny bikinis, like the “chicas aguila” below. Colombians also wear wear wristbands which proudly display their national colours of yellow, blue and red - from business men and policemen to kids.

Unless you’ve been exclusively reading Metro or have been living in a cave for the last twenty years you are probably aware of the prickly political situation in Colombia. Although, when you say Colombia to most people the first thing they think of is cocaine, and maybe the mean looking dudes with the chainsaw at the start of Scarface. It’s a little more complicated than that, and to understand a Colombian artist you have to know at least a little about the country’s history. So, here is my attempt to distill fifty years of complex political and sociological change into one paragraph. Here goes nothing…

The trouble started back in the 60s when some Marxist guerrilla types got kitted out at an army surplus store, went to live in the jungle for a bit and then tried to take over the country. They were the May 19th Movement (M-19), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). To cut a long story short, they threw the country into disorder and opened the door for the country to became one of the international centers for illegal drug production and trafficking. It became so bad that at times the drug cartels controlled the country (that’s Pablo Escobar and his moustached mates). Then the 90s happened. Because the government proved ineffective at fighting and removing the guerrillas and other groups of bad guys, right-wing paramilitary groups emerged and gained influence. These were made up of drug traffickers and landowners (more bad guys) and called themselves the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). In order to fight the guerillas in the jungle, the right-wingers adopted violent guerilla tactics (confused yet?) and soon the country was swallowed up by conflict. An official war against drug trafficking began and Colombia became a battleground where death, violence and kidnapping was the norm. Homicide became the leading cause of death in the nation. One of the presidents  was accused of accepting campaign contributions from drug traffickers..

Those were the bad old days and it’s much safer now, but even though the nonsense Colombians still feature high up on those “happiest people on earth” lists. They do have the best and cheapest drugs after all, they also have good coffee and they’re not bothered too much by tourists - they are frightened off by all them colombian anecdotes you hear, like for example the possibility of being taken on a “paseo millonario” (millionaire’s walk) where a cab kidnaps you and takes you to every cash machine in the city to withdraw all your money, note by note.

Where do you stand as an artists in such strong historical and political context? What are kids up to artistic-wise on the other side of the ocean? Are they busy screenprinting band logos on canvas bags and designing cotton T-shirts? And more importantly, are they all simultaneously also drawing deers?

In a first attempt to answer those questions I got my good friend Diego to go visit Manuel Hernández‘s studio in Colombia’s capital, Bogotá.





Diego went to Manuel’s studio in the center of the city. The studio is located in one of the oldest houses in the area and according to Diego it looked amazing, but he didn’t dare take his camera out to take pictures of the building because it is in a rough neighbourhood. The first time they met they mainly talked about porn and Latin America. The second time they got around to talking about art, the disgusting social condition of Colombia and also the disgusting state of Manuel’s art.

Manuel draws about the socio-polital situation in Colombia and what happens around him. His drawings are spontaneous and scruffy, there’s not much colour to be seen, but they always get their point across. Even though they are quickly line drawings they are obviously produced by a guy know knows how to use a pencil or a brush and is simplifying his style to give his work immediacy and get straight to the point. It’s fast but concise. I believe Manuel draws in this way to get his point across. He doesn’t dwell on pretty stuff, his work is expressive and raw with every doodle telling a story. But for Manuel expression comes not just from drawing but also from the elaborate and often funny comments and text that accompanies his drawings, simultaneously making fun of the serious points he is making. I’ll translate them for you lazy monolingual people who think English is rightly the only “world language”.


Where and how do you work?
I work wherever I can, any place is good to think about something. The advantage of doing art is to be able to disconnect from the day-to-day routine and not to suffer from it. It is essential to have at least a piece of paper and a pen, the rest is history.

I tell you Joe, the coke is in the plane.


Where have you been?

What do you care bitch.

It’s only a question, you are my husband.

Now I fuck blokes in alleyways.

Tell us about the cultural context that illuminates your work.
I believe we are going through a period where some cultures are devouring each other and we are in a country that must object this homogenization, which is even getting to artistic creations.

In Latin America people grow up with a strong idiosyncratic factor that comes from the history of the people, the family and the legacy. This can manifest itself as well in the art that we produce, but maybe it is fundamental that an artist in Latin-America has a pure conception of where he comes from, because helps him answer the recurrent questions “where are we going to?”. I try to elucidate this question through what I do, which is something virtually demented given the actual situations of contemporary life in which we are stuck. It is interesting to use a talent to reflect ideas about the self and about the society you are part of, and maybe it will help us find the best way to grow as a culture and as a human beings.


Well done, well done. He was a bloody communist.

What are your drawings and paintings about?
What I do can be perceived as political or apolitical as necessary, but I try not to limit myself. Maybe what I am looking for is the grotesque, the coarse, the “wrongly done”. I opt for the “not so well done” because I like to feel that things could be well done but that one decides not to and I believe there is a value in that. But besides, I think that we live a reality that is not pretty or beautiful, and that doing pretty things would be a hypocrisy.


Happy failure.


We found this one earlier


Two big balls.


What are you working on at the moment?
I am painting canvases, which is the usual, but I’m mainly working on what I consider my masterpiece: a comic in which I have been submerged in for several years and I hope to finish at some point in the next decade.

The nonsense violence has condemned me to live like a hermit bird.


Seeing how much young artists and even musicians have evolved far from any political involvement today, Manuel’s work makes me wonder what he would be doing in different geographical circumstance. Would he still be drawing sarcastic cadavers? Or would he be painting pretty poppy landscapes in the South of France?