Baruch Porras Hernandez’s art encompasses everything from the written word to web comics and standup comedy to slam poetry. Dubbed a “Multi Hypenated Artist” by the San Francisco Chronicle, he was born in Toluca, Mexico and raised in the Bay Area. He moved to San Francisco in 2006 and continues to create art while also serving as Community Events Manager for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. He has published two poetry collections, “I Miss You, Delicate” and “Lovers of the Deep Fried Circle” (both from Sibling Rivalry Press) and has had poems in journals including Foglifter, The Racket, and Split This Rock. He performs in shows, hosts radio programs, organizes artist showcases, creates the online comic Tiny Baruch, and is a fierce lover of donuts.
Hernandez spoke with News Is Out about his work, the humor in his work and his family and the importance of queer art and artists.
Philadelphia Gay News: How did your creativity develop? Did it start from a young age?
Baruch Porras Hernandez: My mother taught me how to draw. She has pictures of me drawing since I was 2, before I could talk basically, I only drew with markers cause I thought crayons were for chumps. Later when I learned to talk I would draw elaborate stories that I would make up then lead people through them at parties drawing by drawing as if it was a storyboard for a movie.
PGN: You’re a multifaceted artist who works in several disciplines, including poetry, comics, spoken word and acting. You also curate and host events. What draws you to so many different mediums?
BPH: I like my art practice like I like my men, slutty. I have always been an “X-Men” comic book nerd and at an early age I decided instead of letting different versions of me exist in different realities–one with me as a writer, one with me as a painter, and one with me as a comedian–that I’d just do it all! I’m just doing all the artistic stuff I love in this reality at the same time. I’m happier when I don’t concentrate on just one art form and I feel like the art I make is better when I allow myself to be everything I want to be and do everything I want to do. And I certainly have a lot more fun. Being someone like me in the art world has come with some challenges. Everyone around you will “not get it” or be annoyed you won’t “just choose one,” but who cares? I certainly don’t. One of the biggest things that draws me to being, as the SF Chronicle once described me, a “multi-hyphenate artist” is money. I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. I love getting paid to do a comedy show, then a poetry show, then host a gala, and then draw some commissions in the same week. My job is in the nonprofit arts; I need to supplement my income somehow!
PGN: What does your art mean to you as an LGBTQ+ person? Did your art play a role in helping you to understand yourself?
BPH: I believe you can’t separate my queerness from my art; I certainly would not want to. I as a young person was drawn to queer art (I just thought it was better) even before I knew I was queer myself! When I was 4 years old I watched the Japanese animation film of “The Little Mermaid” and I absolutely knew that story was created by someone like me. I didn’t even have the word for it even yet back then in Mexico in the 80s, but I knew whoever made it was like me. Twenty years later it took one Google search to discover I was right.
I believe my queerness is tied to my creativity. In my darkest and deepest times in the closet, poetry saved me. Writing secret love poems to the boys I was falling in love with at school kept me from falling into despair. Painting about my struggles with coming out and identity when I was a teenager helped me immensely to feel less lost. I had my first art show at 15; I put my watercolors up on a local gallery wall at an old Art Café in Berkeley called Au Coquelet that was known for having monthly art shows, I grew up going to that coffee shop with my dad and it was one of my goals to have a show there. No one really got my paintings at first. My friends and family just thought I was “artsy,” but one night I was sitting there next to my paintings writing some gay poetry and a young gay couple came and understood the paintings right away. I overheard them discussing my work, taking their time with each painting and connecting with them, and I was silently over the moon. Gay fireworks probably shot out of my ears.
PGN: Who do you draw inspiration from in your art?
BPH: Recently I have been super inspired by young queer artists. They are going through such a powerful self-realized era that is just a joy to witness. People of my generation were not allowed to be ourselves till we were older. Most of us, even if we came out as “gay” when we were in our 20s, didn’t even let ourselves explore our true real queerness till our mid-30s. I didn’t hear the terms “sex positive” or “fat positive” until way later in life. We are witnessing some pretty amazing art made by people who have had the freedom to explore and know who they are at a younger age and it’s fantastic, it makes me so happy, and it gives me hope. Basically, I just want to thank Queer Gen Zers for kicking ass and tearing down the oppressors. We tried kids, though we didn’t have the internet, now let me help you light that fire so we can burn it down.
Aside from that, I am inspired by beautiful men, my addiction to falling in love with them, and all the joy that being gay has brought into my life. Have you seen the shorts men are wearing these days? What a time to be alive!
PGN: Speaking of your art, tell me about Tiny Baruch? Who is he and what is he all about?
BPH: I LOVE Tiny Baruch. Tiny Baruch is the small part of my heart that is not dead yet, the part that has not given up on the world. Tiny Baruch loves me more than I love myself. Tiny Baruch loves you and wants you to win. I started drawing Tiny Baruch on these little notebooks my mom gave me once as a stocking stuffer, during a time I was too broke to buy real art supplies. I would draw him in these tiny notebooks while standing in line for coffee or waiting for a date, (hence the name Tiny Baruch) and then I let him loose into the world. He’s on Instagram now.
PGN: You’ve lived in San Francisco for a long time. What draws you to the city and what role does an artist’s environment play in their art?
BPH: When my mother was young back in Mexico she dreamed about living in San Francisco. She used to watch “The Streets of San Francisco” with my grandfather. She thought it was the most beautiful city in the world. She told everyone she was going to live there someday and be an artist.
Growing up it always symbolized a place for artists and performers to me. After we moved to the U.S. we lived in the East Bay and often would take long walks up to the Berkeley hills so we could see the view of the bay, and I swear I could feel the gay energy from the city across the bay waiting for me. It is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life to move here. I moved here when I was 26 and have lived here ever since. Yes, there are a lot of downsides, I’ve watched this city transform so many times and watched people come and go. I’ve survived two economic recessions, gentrification, smoke, pandemic, aggressive rental prices, but it is the place where I have felt most like myself and most supported by the queer badass artists young and old that make up the song of the city. I still love this city so much it inspires me, breaks my heart, then makes me fall in love every single day.
PGN: In your poetry collection “Lovers of the Deep-Fried Circle” you’re able to tackle serious topics, often in a humorous way. I’ve never laughed out loud so much while reading poetry, and yet on second or third reading, you see that there is so much more than just humor at play. What role does humor play in your art and your life?
BPH: I grew up with some of the funniest people on the planet, Mexicans. Growing up, family dinners on my mother’s side of the family were a mix of poetry and comedy. My cousins and uncles would take turns telling jokes so funny that everybody ended up crying unable to breathe. Then after a couple of drinks my grandfather would recite a poem he loved from memory, or one he wrote himself, loudly to the whole room. Then my aunt, then my mother, then my uncle, then a cousin would get up and recite a poem he memorized at school. I don’t come from wealth. Both my parents come from poor families, but they had humor, resilience, and passion. My mother is still the funniest person I know. She’s gotten shy in her older age, but she can still roast me to FILTH! And yes it often ends up onstage with me when I do comedy.
PGN: You’ve organized events including “¿Donde Esta Mi Gente? a Latinx literary performance series” and The San Francisco Queer Open Mic. Why do you think it’s important for artists of similar experiences to gather together?
BPH: Oh my gosh, so we can GET A BREAK FROM STRAIGHT ART! LOL. So much of the art world is still monopolized by white straight men. When I do art with other queers, magic happens. When I do art with other Latinx/e/a/os I feel that I grow so much as a person and as an artist. This happens because when you create next to people that come from your background, you are making art with people who see you as a real person. That is so powerful, to make art with people that are not othering you or seeing you, even if only subconsciously as flawed. When you make art with people who see you the queer, you the immigrant, you the Mexican, and you the empowered slut as the best parts of you or the truest parts of you, the art just blooms out of every pore of your body.
PGN: What advice would you have for a young queer person who is struggling to express themselves?
BPH: I only give advice to young queer artists who aren’t rich and don’t come from money:
“Dear young queer artist, my Love, my sweet young wonderful friend: working as an artist when you don’t have rich parents is always going to suck. It will not get easier as you get older. Life should not be a competition, but you will always be surrounded by artists whose wealthy parents or rich spouse support their art career, and as annoying as that may be, never ever let anything stop you. If you love it, do it. If it keeps you alive, do it. Though it may be hard and difficult, when you get your win, and if you work hard, I promise you, when you get your art wins, big or small, they will be infinitely better for you than the rich nepo babies will ever feel.
Poor queer artists have made art and big changes in the art worlds with no money, with no internet and with no cellphones. We have the magic inside of us; money cannot buy that. You may not end up with a lot of wealth, but your life will be abundant with incredible experiences that will enrich your soul. And you will get to travel! I’m broke, but being an artist has taken me to Canada, Spain, and all over North America. You will get to visit beautiful cities you have never even dreamed of and, if you play your cards right, get paid to do it! Trust in the queer artist inside of you!
And on that note, this might seem contradictory, but get a day job. When I was trying to be a full-time freelancer, I always felt like I could not make art because I was struggling just to make rent. The stress was killing me. Getting a day job took a large chunk of art-making time out of my life, but when I do make time to make art, I enjoy the heck out of it, cause I’m not pulling my hair out to figure out how to survive. And don’t get me wrong; when I was a freelancer, I was doing really well. I was paying my rent, my utilities, and most of my food with art gigs. It was amazing, but then I would need toothpaste, new shoes, a dustpan, dental bills, medical bills, so I “gave up” and got a day job, and honestly, it saved my art career.
Also, be open to change. Let your art change you. Let your art and your journey help you discover things about yourself you didn’t know were there. Be fearless in your exploration of your art. Only you can set your limits. Out of paint? Crush some berries together. Out of paper? Write on napkins. Out of food? Eat your roommate’s cereal when they’re not looking. Do whatever you have to do to make your art, and share it, share it, share it with the world! We as queer artists are part of a glorious conversation. Queer art is ancient. We carry the songs and art and love of our queer artistic ancestors in our gay genes. Put yourself out there and you will connect with some amazing people. Get together with them and make some queer art joy. The queer artists that I have made friendships with and made art with have helped me grow exponentially as an artist, I’m literally a different person now, a better person, and a better artist because I have learned from my queer artistic elders, my fellow queer weirdo artists, and, now that I’m over 40, I’m even learning from the queer baby artists around me.
Jason Villemez is the editor of Philadelphia Gay News.
This story is made possible with support from Comcast Corporation.