***The mural of this story does not exist on Clematis St anymore. It was removed on August 24, 2015***

Born in Cuba, artist Tony Hernandez was drenched with the hot Latin colors of the island, the sinuous lines of the buildings, blooming colors of the markets, and details of everyday life. He carried those images in his head when his mother sent him to cold, fast-moving Chicago to find a freer life with relatives.

By his late teens he was in Palm Beach County, immersed in art and painting canvases filled with wild haired women, portraits of famous inspirations such as Salvador Dali with birds flying out of his head, Mick Jagger with mechanics in his mindseye, Ernest Hemingway battling swordfish in the sea. There’s a darkness and a sexuality to his images, with swirling vine-like lines and a rainbow of colors. He has so many ideas coming at him so quickly he had to switch to acrylic paint because “oil wouldn’t dry fast enough for me.”

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Now 20 years later, Tony’s larger than life murals are helping define the West Palm Beach. Walking around the Arts District surrounding Clematis Street, his striking murals dominate the scene. The giant head of JFK wearing mirrored sunglasses, palm trees swaying in his reflected vision, hovers over a parking lot on Datura. Punk hero Joey Ramone and Velvet Underground Kingpin Lou Reed take over the whole outer wall of Respectable Street Café on Clematis, their faces defiant in powerful black and white.

[quote_right]A Steampunk mural of part man, part machines runs the length of the Bier Garten at Eat Scene on Fern Street. [/quote_right]

There are also murals in Miami’s Wynwood and in Lake Worth. It’s wildly wonderful work, and he has plans to go even bigger, with a four-story mural on a building on Okeeechobee of a baby putting a puzzle together, the jigsaw puzzle pieces are human shaped. It’s his biggest mural yet and he’s doing it on his own 40-foot dime.

So how does such a big picture get from his head to a wall?

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Artist Tony Hernandez next to one of his murals in Downtown West Palm Beach

“I get the ideas sometimes as I’m painting something else or it’s part of the commission and I make it my own,” Hernandez says, sipping a drink at Longboards on Clematis. “I draw it by hand, then scan it into a computer, break it into quads and then section it off on the building. Sometimes I can use a projector. Then I get on my mechanized lift, strap on my headphones and get into the zone. When I’m painting and the zone takes it’s magic, I can go for literally days. I went for 5 days without sleeping this month. I do my best work at night and I can get a big mural done in two weeks that way. I just love the process, to just GO GO GO.”

He works alone, except for his patient, organized wife Aileen who helps tame his increasingly hectic schedule. Meeting with city planners for mural approvals, flying to Los Angeles and Bimini for new commissions, getting supplies, painting curvaceous human bodies for street festivals, dreaming in iMax Technicolor. It’s a rough life. So what does Tony Hernandez see for the future?

“I like to think my work can be a kind of landmark, and that the art enriches a city. You obviously can’t paint a historic building, but there’s a lot of big blank wall space out there – courtyards, by the train tracks, warehouses – that are just ideal. The City of West Palm has been pretty supportive, Art in Public Places in particular. The landscape is really changing here. It’s like a big chess game, you have to put all these pieces together and think ahead. My two kids really inspire me and it makes me feel good to think I did something they can be proud of.”

In a town with some big players, Hernandez is proving to be among the biggest as he dreams big in the zone.

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Sandra-Schulman Sandra Schulman is an arts writer, music and film producer. Born in Miami, her work has appeared in Billboard, Variety, Rolling Stone, Ocean Drive, Country Music Magazine, The New York Daily News, News From Indian Country, and Entertainment Weekly. She was an entertainment columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for 8 years. She has authored three books on pop culture. She currently lives in West Palm Beach with her blue eyed whippet. Sandra Schulman’s column appears weekly. Contact her at sandraslink@gmail.com.

Murals in West Palm Beach Say that Tony Hernandez Dreams Big in the Zone. Explore Tony Hernandez, Immersed in Art and Painting Canvases in Palm Beach County