frances lerner


My current work both abandons and embraces premises of the two previous series shown in the last six years - (There Was Once A World and Sympathetic Criminals) - which took for inspiration a perplexed puppet named Lorelei. The puppet, her family, and her compadres in industrial dioramas formed a traditional still life set up. In much of this work, the process of painting was reactionary, old fashioned, reviving the old masters’ techniques. Observation and a constrained set of steps – an underpainting, thin glazes - were key.

Initially, in the current work, my usual small scale wooden panels became even smaller to deal with larger, lofty themes like mortality, creating an irony, and ambivalent spatial relationships reigned.

But, consciously, I wanted to find a woman’s narrative story as a basis, and I settled on the 1911 Manhattan Triangle Factory Fire (where 146 immigrant women died.) I bought a very old bellows, drawn by the way it operated, feeding the fire with air. The bellow’s rounded petal and angular shapes (similar in some ways to misshapen Lorelei) were what I loved. But, rather than doing a painting of the object, my impulse was to pull the actual bellows apart. But, it couldn’t be put be put back together again. The individual shapes united and reunited forming a sort of hybrid form that felt both familiar and mysterious, balanced and imbalanced. More bellows followed.

Instead of technical constraints serving as a guide and only using oil paint on panel, multiple techniques and materials accrued to these hybrid sculptures: Odd bedfellows -cast concrete and homespun fabric, wood and wool, bound physically to each other and reacted together unexpectedly. They formed a kind of old world symbiosis where the materials hold memory.

As my painting was no longer based on observation, they varied in size and each one could be described as a fragment or a footnote to something once there and then gone, with one foot in our reality and the other in the other world. Oddly, in some sense one could imagine the painting spawning the hybrid sculptures; or the objects escaping their trap spilling into actual space --- Some of the paintings and objects coupled off creating a third meaning, sometimes they changed partners.

Finally, this body of work strives to be inclusive on many levels, in subject, process, materials, and in person.

Frances Lerner