Long Beach residents are accustomed to walking past public art in downtown, bright murals painted across the backsides of buildings or hidden in an alleyway.
But when resident Alepsis Hernandez sees those same murals, she pauses.
That’s because some of the murals she passes by are hers.
Hernandez has been drawing all of her life, but it wasn’t until she started at Millikan High School that she began to take her talent seriously, enrolling in advanced placement art courses.
Hernandez’s teacher noticed her skill and asked her to participate in the nationwide Congressional Art Competition for the 47th Congressional District in 2014 in lieu of completing her portfolio for the class.
It was a decision that proved to be worthwhile.
Hernandez took first place in the competition, her grandmother and mom crying in pride and excitement.
“That was kind of a surreal moment because, to be honest, I didn’t even really care so much for art like that,” Hernandez said. “I always did it as a hobby, not that I would do it because I knew I was good but I would just do it because it was, I don’t know, like drinking water.”
The prize included for Hernandez and her mother to fly out to Washington D.C. to see her artwork being hung in the Capitol, which would stay there until the following year’s competition.
This experience opened Hernandez to the possibility of pursuing art as a career for the first time. But since her decision to become a full-time artist and freelance in November 2019, Hernandez has discovered that originality isn’t always what people are seeking.
“If you’re an artist, other people who are fans of art will search for you,” Hernandez said. “But if you’re a muralist, you have people that don’t give a shit about art passing by your mural and it kind of forces them to digest that. So that’s why I think cities and business owners always want something colorful, something positive…because it’s like everyone’s eyes are on it.”
Creating art in black and white was once Hernandez’s preference.
Color is a common component in art, Hernandez said, and a person’s eyes are drawn to it. Without color, which can be distracting, someone observing it may find the piece more emotional or may be prompted to ask more questions about the subject, according to Hernandez.
But creating murals, Hernandez said, is a back-and-forth affair between client and artist that ultimately whittles down to a mutually agreed upon image. Through this, Hernandez has transitioned out of her achromatic palette, but her attraction to black-and-white artwork has remained.
Now, Hernandez is on a mission to get to a point as an artist where she can remain in control over her work.
That can only come with experience, but Hernandez is building a steady portfolio of murals throughout Southern California, including multiple paintings of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who died in a helicopter crash in January 2020.
She was flown out to do a mural in Memphis, Tennessee, an experience that stuck out to her because she was allowed to freely paint in black and white.
“That was very liberating,” Hernandez said. “That was very free. It made me feel like, ‘Damn, I could travel. My murals will take me around the world. I could do this.’”
Hernandez was also part of brightening up Long Beach’s boarded up shops when the coronavirus pandemic caused California to close non-essential businesses, prompting the Arts Council for Long Beach to contact artists who could paint the boards swiftly and follow safety procedures.
Judy Estrada, Marketing and Grants Manager for the Arts Council, knew that Hernandez was a great candidate for the job.
“I was born and raised in Long Beach, fourth generation, so I see what has changed and what has not changed,” Estrada said. “Alepsis is a part of positive growth in Long Beach.”
Estrada first met Hernandez while she was doing a live painting at an event hosted by Black Book Sessions, a non-profit organization that works with the youth. Hernandez’s continued involvement with the youth is what Estrada said makes Alepsis unique.
“She’s a talented artist and just a beautiful person inside and out,” Estrada said.
Starting this month and into the next, Hernandez is allowing herself a break from commissions.
The need to show her followers on social media that she is consistently working mixed with the underlying anxiety that comes with not knowing when the next commission will be has been burdensome on Hernandez. That, combined with the lack of producing original artwork she said, has made her realize that it was time for a break.
Now, Hernandez said, is the time to do “homework” and redefine what her message is as an artist. She is also writing about art in order to better explain her work to those interested.
And after that, it’ll be time to find a blank wall.
“The goal is to be doing murals more than anything,” Hernandez said.