Originally hailing from Santa Barbara, 46-year-old Hanko Hernandez seemed to have the natural gift of being an artist; or at least the drive to be one. As a child, all of his older cousins were into custom cars and loved the Lowriding lifestyle. Hanko loved the way that the cars looked and he would always jump at the chance to hang out with the family at their get-togethers. Hanko marveled over the intricate custom paintjobs on the Lowrider cars, and his fondness for the artwork led him to pick up various paints and start experimenting.

Hanko started practicing his paint work with bicycles and model cars, doing “trial and error” runs until he began perfecting the process. Around the same time, he also started to venture outside his garage with the local muralists, assisting them in painting murals on walls. Feeling a sense of pride within himself, Hanko really loved to do Chicano art, and considered that to be his favorite theme to paint. When he got a little older, he had a good opportunity to hook up with established painter, George “Malo” Solis. Hanko was an apprentice for Malo, doing side work at his shops. Even though he wasn’t paid, he felt that Malo’s help was priceless, and worth more than any dollar amount.

As time went on, it became apparent to Hanko that he was a student evolving into a teacher. Younger and less experienced artists began reaching out to him to ask for his guidance. He was always willing to help out and give advice to the up-and-comers, and it came natural for him thanks to his pure enthusiasm for the art itself.

Barely in his teens when he took on the task of painting his first full-sized car, Hanko cut his teeth on a 1977 Buick Regal. The car was actually his own, and it served as the ideal canvas for him to start on. “I blocked out that car like 18 times,” Hanko recalls with a laugh, “and when it was finally good and ready, that’s when Malo said I had earned my right to shoot Candy paint.” It was that same Regal that Hanko used to practice his other paint skills, including pattern making and various other styles.

When he was 17 years old, Hanko and Malo had their first shop together. He lived and breathed this shop for quite a while, perfecting and honing in on his paint skills under its hallowed roof. Having done custom paint jobs for all kinds of clientele, Hanko felt the time was right for him to get his own shop and make a name for himself. Even though he branched out, he has always maintained a special respect for everything that Malo taught him, and this respect has obviously stayed with him over the years.

Being a member of the Imperials Car Club has definitely kept Hanko in the Lowriding loop, allowing him to stay in contact with many individuals who have brought him a steady supply of work. Lowriders from all over have made the pilgrimage to Ventura County to have him paint their rides. Through the Imperials, Hanko has also been able to make some lifelong friends, including Chente, who was a good friend to him up until his unfortunate passing a few years ago. Chente’s family actually donated his ’72 Monte Carlo to Hanko, a touching gesture that is well appreciated as he now drives it often in his memory. The eye-popping paintjob on it is over 17 years old, but still looks great!

About a year and a half ago, Hanko ended up having his own close encounter with death when he went over an embankment and plummeted over 200 feet down. Fortunately, he was able to recover from this very serious car accident, but it has taken some time. During his rehabilitation, he was not able to paint and had to close his shop. Turning tragedy to triumph, Hanko resurfaced earlier this year, when he was at last able to start painting again. American Auto Body in Oxnard, California was nice enough to let him paint there until he was back up to speed. This allowed him to save a little money so that he could re-open his own shop.

Throughout his career, Hanko also mentored ROP students, taking them by the hand and showing these young artists how they could live their artistic dreams if they really wanted to. He taught them all that there was to learn about painting, and a very proud Hanko mentioned that there were students that did end up starting their own businesses later on.

In the late spring of 2011, Hanko opened up his own Candy Factory in Oxnard, and was officially back in business. Candy Factory offers every type of auto painting, including candies, flakes, patterns, graphics, flames, murals, pinstriping, and leafing. Hanko even has his own student, in the same role he once played under Malo’s valuable tutelage; a young man known as “Remedy” is working alongside Hanko at Candy Factory. After a lifetime of work and a near tragedy, Hanko is happy to be back in the saddle again, and the Lowrider community definitely shares that sentiment.