Contained in the Mysterious and Unusual World of Native Artist Howard Lerner

There’s a collection of home windows on the aspect of the road, it’s stuffed with a plethora of eye-catching artwork: a giant canvas that includes a gentleman with a dour expression, accordion in hand, a smokey grey cat under him. A ventriloquist dummy turned to the aspect, a smaller body with a chunky colourful clown, and a vertical portray of darkish blue sea background, shades of inexperienced, cream making the exoskeleton of a fish. In the midst of the home windows, a yellow rectangular signal reads “Window Galley:” 

Howard Lerner’s Window Gallery. Picture taken by Demetria Osei-Tutu

The artwork takes on a spooky high quality that makes spectators each wish to edge nearer and look barely away. It makes me wish to know who Howard Lerner is. 

Howard Lerner shouldn’t be as spooky as his artwork entails. He wore black lined with yellow metric ruler suspenders with instruments on them towards a purple polo shirt and grey slacks. They’re as splendidly quirky and distinctive because the proprietor himself. His disposition is welcoming and genial, particularly as he supplied me a bowl of cherries and orange seltzer.

The distinction is intriguing as the various tales Lerner has to inform. He’s 69 years outdated and his life up to now is stuffed with many tales and experiences.

Candid portrait of Howard Lerner in his studio. Picture taken by Demetria Osei-Tutu.

Born in Middletown, Connecticut, Lerner developed his love of artwork by emulating his dad who would draw from magazines. His mom observed and acquired him artwork provides and enrolled him in artwork lessons. He was the visible little one, his brother would go on to be a lawyer, or “the verbal,” as Lerner would say. Quickly he would go to Boston College (BU) for his or her arts program. It was there he discovered the classical strategy to artwork. Ultimately, he received bored with the standard strategy and went to graduate college at BU. At graduate college, he was taught and mentored by Philip Guston.

“[Art] retains me targeted, it’s one thing that I really feel compelled to do…. I could make one thing that I really feel strongly about, work on an issue that I hook up with, the supplies. It’s not simply portray with a brush and paint,” mentioned Lerner.

He moved as much as NYC in 1982. He lived within the Decrease East Facet for a bit after which moved to Greenpoint. He purchased a constructing, which he nonetheless owns (and rents out to tenants), with the assistance of his dad and mom in 1986. The constructing was once dwelling to a Polish dance studio. Joan Whalen helped him together with his first huge gallery. Since then, his work has been exhibited in lots of New York galleries and museums, such because the Jewish Museum. He has offered his airplane sculpture at an vintage store and artwork gallery in Williamsburg. He has offered quite a few work through the years, however not but one in every of his newer portray collages. 

His previous exhibits have been in different areas. The final present he did was in a church on the Higher West Facet. He has been hoping to indicate the work he has been doing for about 9 years.

The sheer dimension of his artwork calls for consideration — not solely from the sheer dimension however from the subject material. Lerner dabbles within the grotesque, with the concepts of the unusual, the mysterious, and the fantastical.

Howard Lerner posing in his studio in entrance of “Millie / Christine Siamese Twins.” Picture taken by Demetria Osei-Tutu.

In his paintings, there’s a standard theme of animals (horses, cats, and cardinals), his love of all issues classic circus sideshows, and his Jewish id and faith. Ever since he moved to NYC, sideshow banners have been an affect. 

“Every portray for me has a storyline,” mentioned Lerner. “It is probably not a whole story with a starting, center, and finish. However it’s a story”

Lerner thinks about his artwork and the story he needs to inform. Whether or not it’s a few conjurer/fortune teller, a purple haired large (primarily based on Native American lore, or from two Black conjoined twins who evoke concepts of the Hindi yoga chant: “Kali Durge Namo Namah,” Lerner incorporates parts of various mythologies to assemble his very personal.

“Mummified Turtle Woman Foretells the Future” portray. Picture taken by Demetria Osei-Tutu.

“Typically possibly being an artist…there was some disconnect that I had with different folks” Lerner responded when requested about what drew him to the sideshow banners. He might relate to the figures on the circus and needed to indicate that in his artwork. He preferred that the folks have been totally different. Impressed by postcards of sideshow banners he owned, he contacted photographer Randal Levenson, whose title was listed. Levenson did the pictures for the e-book, In Search of the Monkey Woman by Spalding Grey.  The e-book covers the lives of carnival folks.

He observed that these pictures are “American artwork that’s hardly talked about” and needs to be of “main significance.” Now Lerner says there’s a time period for these kind of pictures known as outsider artwork. Outsider artwork, Lerner explains, shouldn’t be the mainstream. So by that definition, his artwork might be thought-about that, although one other ingredient of outsider artwork is being self taught. Lerner has years of education that claims in any other case, however the vibes and essence of his work is one in every of an outsider. He has additionally been influenced by outsider artists like Martín Ramírez. Guston as soon as informed Lerner his work is totally different, how Lerner by no means has tried to suit into any type of pigeonhole, or attempt to be a part of one thing. 

A portray and photo-filled wall at Lerner’s dwelling. Picture taken by Demetria Osei-Tutu.

Lerner, additionally an assemblage artist, makes use of discovered objects and supplies to create his selfmade items. He collects plenty of classic images and postcards that he will get from flea markets and Pinterest. The magnitude of images masking the partitions of his dwelling resembles a historic museum. He’s additionally keen on utilizing classic document albums (from the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s) from Ebay. Lerner makes certain the covers are thick. He likes that they’re colourful and daring. It’s via the data that his work get splashes of coloration and textured to the fingertips. One other man’s trash is really one other man’s treasure for Lerner. 

The supplies he makes use of are part of all points of his artwork. His artwork fashion calls again to his purely sculpture days. His bronchial asthma prevents him now from making sculptures just like the biblical (Outdated Testomony) sized totem sized ones similar to “Melchizedek” and “Ezekiel’s Imaginative and prescient” close to the doorway to his house. He can’t reduce the wooden anymore. Additionally the sculptures take up fairly a little bit of area. His pet cat, Shiva, likes to hold round them. Shiva has additionally made visitor appearances in his artwork. 

Shut up of “Melchizedek” and “Ezekiel’s Imaginative and prescient” sculpture by Howard Lerner. Picture taken by Demetria Osei-Tutu.

In his studio amongst his huge tangible portray collages, there’s extra of his sculptures, smaller ones dangling from the ceiling. They provide off a Tim Burton-esque vibe. If Burton made a movie concerning the deep sea, Lerner’s sculptures (deep sea diver, lobster, fishes) could be prime for the choosing. 

“I’m getting one of the best of each worlds. I’m in a position to do sculptural sorts of issues. On the identical time, I’m doing flat work. So I’m mixing it up,” mentioned Lerner.

Lerner has transitioned his fashion into merging the 2 mediums of sculpting and portray to type the work he does now: these tangible 3D-like portray collages. However he nonetheless begins small on sketching paper or mini boards with compilations of impressed photographs earlier than he ventures to the large canvas to craft the narrative first.

One of many greatest supporters of his artwork was his late spouse of 35 years, Lorraine. She handed six months in the past on account of Spinocerebellar Ataxia (SCA).

Lorraine didn’t go to artwork college.  Her mother was an artist however she went to a commerce college for typesetting. Lerner smiled remembering how Lorraine would inform him when one thing was good, one thing he ought to preserve engaged on, or one thing he ought to scrap. Her suggestions was all the time welcomed. 

Lerner has a portray depicting Lorraine’s wrestle with the neurological illness. He calls the portray “Dying to Spinocerebellar Ataxia” which is one thing he hopes occurs to the illness.

He defined the portray to me via the affected person’s web page of Lorraine from Dr. Sheng-Han. The individual within the paintings is Lorraine, and there’s a cowboy on a horse on her mind surrounded by a cacophony of images to replicate how exhausting it’s to perform with SCA. She is making an attempt to play the accordion however it’s tough due to the illness she has. Lerner additionally included their cat Shiva because the mind with the phrases “Dying to Spinocerebellar Ataxia.” Shiva is meant to be defending her mind.

“Dying to Spinocerebellar Ataxia” by Howard Lerner

“The story of Lorraine’s illness has 10 plagues, just like the Exodus story within the Bible: 1) Lack of Eyesight, 2) Lack of Speech, 3) Lack of Swallowing, 4) Lack of Steadiness and Lack of ability to Stroll, 5) Lack of Household and Mates, 6) Lack of Having Youngsters, 7) Lack of Continence, 8) Lack of Coordination, 9) Lack of Focus, and 10) Lack of Life,” mentioned Lerner on the web page.

“Dying to Spinocerebellar Ataxia” by Howard Lerner Credit score: Howard Lerner’s Web site

Lorraine all the time informed him he was an amazing artist and to proceed to do his artwork which is what Lerner needs to do. He’s been doing artwork for some time. He taught on the aspect at College of Maryland, Florida State and taught throughout New Jersey and New York as an adjunct professor. He additionally helped with the household enterprise known as Lerner’s Furs and offered fur coats (the household enterprise was offered to another person in 1998). Lastly, he received into investing in shares, which he nonetheless does.

All in all, Lerner is simply getting began at 69 and shortly you’ll be able to witness his fantastical world and former work. So put together your self to return contained in the world of Howard Lerner, you would possibly come to understand the grotesque, a brand new kind of mythology, or unheard elements of historical past.

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