Having interpreted the iconography of his Native American roots through a cubist perspective, Oscar Howe is revered for elevating the tribal art of his ancestry into thoroughly contemporary works. Having studied painting with Howe protégé Robert Penn, artist Jesse Hernandez similarly merges his heritage with a modern aesthetic to create contemporary designs, though in his case it is a Mesoamerican genealogy combined with an urban sensibility. Creating what has become known as “Urban Aztec”, a combination of graffiti’s bold lines and sharp colors with the dynamic imagery of pre-Columbian cultures. And while Hernandez’s interpretations have graced a myriad of two-dimensional surfaces, including an array of murals throughout various cities around the world, his style has also graced a diverse assortment of vinyl sculptural forms, such as his newest art toy edition, the Tlaloc Dunny produced by Kidrobot, a design that is the culmination of a decade’s progression.

Jesse Hernandez’s Tlaloc Design

Though worship of a rain god attired in a mask with circular eyes and jaguar-like fangs have been dated back to at least the Teotihuacán culture of the highlands (3rd to 8th century AD), the name Tlāloc is a specifically Aztec one. Frequently coupled with imagery of water and maize in depictions, Tlāloc was not only the beneficent giver of crop-growing rains but also the fearsome sender of devastating lightning bolts and hunger-inducing droughts. Using mainly hues of blue against a black backdrop with accents in red, Hernandez hand-painted an interpretation of Tlāloc on a vinyl sculptural form for APW Gallery‘s 16″ Qee Exhibition in June of 2008. Creating a fluid rendering of the god’s particular mask, graffiti tag reminiscent lightning bolts emerge from underneath one of the piece’s feet while a serpentine beast’s depiction splays itself across Tlaloc‘s arms. Revisiting this concept for Spoke Art Gallery‘s Oakland Now exhibition in August of 2012, this two-dimensional painted Rain God rendition simplified the form down to the iconic mask, menacing bolts of lightning angling themselves towards the viewer while two serpents — traditionally depicted twisting around Tlāloc’s eyes — emerge from the god’s head. And the next evolution of Hernandez’s depiction was revealed publicly in December of 2014, when the artist announced that his proposed Tlaloc Dunny along with its red variant were canceled by the editions’ producer, Kidrobot. That is, of course, until its impending issuing was declared at November of 2018’s DesignerCon, Kidrobot proudly displaying a copy of it in their convention booth.

Jesse Hernandez’s Tlaloc Dunny

This new, factory-produced rendition of Hernandez’s design is executed upon Kidrobot’s long-standing Dunny vinyl form, the anthropomorphized rabbit shape’s ears having been suggestively transformed into the divine being’s serpents, newly sculpted heads topping each ‘neck’ emerging from Tlaloc‘s head. In fact, this edition’s head features several sculptural alterations, including the mask element which has been affixed to the piece though created as a separate part that floats atop the face, thus providing the clear indication that this is something worn and not part of the god’s true visage. Creating a feel of lightning illuminating the darkest night, Hernandez’s Tlaloc Dunny is finished with glow-in-the-dark details, such as its mask’s teeth, its bolt-shaped headdress, and its so-called “Lightning Dragon Staff”. In fact, this last aspect bares some potential conceptual implications as those that adorned themselves in the likeness of Tlāloc would not only wear his distinctive mask but frequently also carry a symbolic lightning bolt wand, thus allowing for the interpretation that this edition of 800 pieces depicts a follower in garb rather than the unique divinity himself.

In addition to the more traditional, primarily cool hues of the regular edition of the design, Hernandez’s Tlaloc Dunny is being issued in two variant color schemes. Exclusively offered by IamRetro, the 160 piece “green” edition imbues the form with a strong sense of Tlāloc’s role in earthly fertility as well as his being the ruler of Tlalocan, the fourth heaven, a paradise of eternal spring and lush plants. Conversely, the 200 comprising Kidrobot’s exclusive “red” edition of the 8-inch tall form seem to depict a more wrathful aspect, a god bubbling over with anger. And while this rendition could be related to the “Red Tlāloc” found in a mural at Tepantitla, which have since been generally acknowledged as unrelated to the rain god, it seems more likely to be a homage to the Mayan version of the diety, Chaac, who was frequently associated with the bloodiness of war. But, regardless of Hernandez’s true intentions, it is clear that his “Urban Aztec” style opens a window to explore the ancient past through thoroughly contemporary means.

Click Here to Acquire Jesse Hernandez’s Tlaloc Dunny from Kidrobot, from IamRetro, or find a Kidrobot Retailer to order from.

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