The Botticelli of Bryant Park: He's homeless. And he might be the hottest new artist in town.
HERNAN LOPEZ MIGHT BE the hottest new artist in Lake Worth Beach.
Since February, he has sold nearly a dozen colorful acrylics of animals and landscapes, most painted in his spartan studio -- a bench in Bryant Park.
“He’s an incredible talent,” said Marissa Hayes, a West Palm Beach woman who paid $90 for a Lopez gecko.
Perhaps even more remarkable is Lopez’s environment: He is homeless.
But with help from the community, he is trying to lift himself out of his situation through his artwork.
“I prefer not to say ‘homeless,’’ he said the other day while dabbing gold paint onto canvas. “I am not in my best (living) condition about my life but I feel good because I’m doing what I love. Paint, paint, paint.’’
His pieces -- lizards, an octopus, tropical palm trees, to name a few -- have sold for as much as $275 each. While that might sound like pocket change compared to nearby Palm Beach gallery prices, the impact it has on Lopez is priceless.
He hopes his artwork will one day allow him to afford a rental studio. He also wants to earn money by teaching others to paint.
But for now, he said, he sends most of what he earns to his 14-year-old daughter in his native Peru.
“In the United States you can always find food to eat, but in my country it’s hard so I send money I earn back home to make sure my daughter eats,’’ he said.
Lopez, 49, said he sometimes hangs out near a Home Depot to land construction jobs. But he prefers to paint, a passion he first tapped on the streets of Lima.
He said he studied at the Bella Artes school in Lima and practiced painting before coming to the United States eight years ago for better opportunities.
He said he struggled and bounced from Fort Lauderdale to Pompano Beach before coming to Lake Worth Beach two years ago.
He was living last year at the since-disbanded homeless Tent City in John Prince Park where he met Francky Pierre-Paul, a community activist and advocate for the homeless.
Pierre-Paul, founder of the non-profit A Different Shade of Love, said he was “blown away” when he saw Hernan’s paintings, created with donated supplies.
“Hernan is a hidden jewel,’’ he said.
Through his Instagram feed and word of mouth, Pierre-Paul started marketing Lopez’s work in early February. Soon, commissions started trickling in.
Hayes, director of communications for Retreat Behavioral Health in Lake Worth Beach, said she saw his artwork on Pierre-Paul’s social media posts.
“I fell in love with his little gecko,’’ she said of the painting that now decorates her office.
Inspired by Lopez’s talent, Hayes arranged for Retreat Behavioral Health to give him extra canvases the center had for the art therapy classes attended by its patients.
“We love to watch people thrive. We will probably continue to donate and support him,’’ she said.
“The homeless are people,’’ she said, “people with talents, people with families, people who hit a rough patch in their life. They should be appreciated, respected and supported as much as the next person.’’
She also praised Pierre-Paul for taking the time to spotlight Lopez’s work.
“If it wasn’t for Francky, I would’ve never seen this gentleman’s work and he wouldn’t be able to earn money or showcase his talents,’’ Hayes said. “Sometimes the solution is to have someone that’s willing to listen and go a little bit above and beyond to change these peoples’ lives.’’
Lopez said he doesn’t want pity. He wants a chance to improve his life.
“People like us need more chances,’’ he said, gesturing toward other homeless people huddled at picnic tables in the park. “We feel like the system is not for us.’’
Lopez said that although he has been painting for more than 20 years, he is only now starting to hit his stride.
He said Pierre-Paul’s interest in his work gave him a renewed focus.
“I went to the Bella Arts in Lima but the truth is the street helped me more. I learned it in the streets, in the Andes mountains, in the jungle. This is my school,’’ he said.
“In the painting world you don't know when you're ready, like fruit. Some people are ready very young. Now I feel confident to paint anything.
Lopez has sold 10 paintings so far.
“I need to sell more, at a better price,’’ he said, laughing as he worked on a seahorse painting.
“This is the first time I’ve painted a seahorse. It’s very difficult, with a lot of light and shadows But I am getting better,’’ he said.
“Sometimes people (in the park) walk by and look at you like you are strange -- and I am strange, maybe, but I understand my situation and I do the best work I can do in this condition.’’
He said he admires all the classic and modern artists -- from Goya, Vermeer and Botticelli to David Hockney.
“Everybody thinks they’re Picasso’’ he said with a laugh. “But it’s the people who say whether you’re an artist.’’
Pierre-Paul said Lopez is an inspiration.
“I am so happy to know these pieces are headed to homes that will cherish them as much as we all do,’’ he said.
“Despite his homelessness situation, Hernan still shows up and delivers because this is his passion and this is what he loves to do. It is an honor to be in his corner. Homelessness will never define him.’’
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