In Leonard Lehrer and his Influences, there is a formulation of the "perfect instant" where past is redeemed in the present. This philosophy echoes the voice of a historian. Reminiscent of Walter Benjamin- a philosopher of history, consistently vigilant to those victims in the past, Leonard has lived with histories, redeeming personal, kin and humankind. Leonard reworks happenings of the past into a reality of present hope. Time, was now.
Throughout Leonard Lehrer`s repertoire is the continual presence of memory. This is accentuated through a choice of materials, technique and form. The content determines the means. In Lehrer`s early work he spent time experimenting with great sensitivity to tone, colour, and compositional balance reminiscent of the still life painter Giorgio Morandi who focused on depicting the familiar but with subtle gradations of hue, tone and colour, thus making the depictions of familiar have a mysterious quality. Lithography, a favoured method in Lehrer`s work relies upon the strongest ink that survives for the image. This prefigures endurance, evident in content throughout his work. The layering techniques are in the presence of now. This form of collage and mixed media, blasts open that continum of history. It is only through using that present form, that the past begins to seep through the cracks of time…time collapses and influences from the Alhambra, the quasi-mathmatical composition of the Gardens of Last Year at Marienbad; Judaism; Jorges Luis Borges; Pontoromo and his daughter Anna-Katrina, all flower and bloom out to the reader. This technique allows a multitude of perspectives, Lehrer`s personal history, the extrinsic history to his own and within this, the reader can experience and savor their own vast array of influences.
Sojourns and Embarkation to Cythera
The fascination with formal gardens depicted in Sojourns and Embarkation to Cythera are mysteriously still and removed from the ordinary world. There is a feeling of the Romantic lonely wanderer, like the Wandering Jew, an exiled bearer of testimony and witness. Lehrer in his art is narrating a tale revolving around the wanderings of a changeless character in a changing world. Lehrer`s formal gardens depicted in Sojourns and Embarkation to Cythera allude to Nicholas Poussin’s 17th century mechanisms in the painterly pursuit of three-dimensional composition in space. Furthermore, Lehrer found affinity with the formal garden leitmotif embedded within Alain Renais`s Last year at Marienbad. Here characters wander seemingly lost and in a dream. It is precisely this combination of symmetry in the external world and labyrinth in the internal consciousness, that is evident in Lehrer`s works.
“…the viewer is presented with images from the preceding year that may have been prior, but might also be visions of time future or the present. One image is tumbled upon the other and the viewer is lost in a vertigo of timelessness” (Gergen, K.J: 1991)
This reactivation of memory from a present moment relates to Jorge Luis Borges’ mediation on time in Library of Babel where all that is required for time to be infinite, is for time - thus memory to be infinitely sub-divisible. Borges’ work evidently influenced Lehrer`s as the memories depicted in Sojourns and Embarkation to Cythera are infinite not only for himself but also for the viewer.
In Embarkation to Cythera there is the combination of Flemish Baroque from Ruben’s, The Three Graces, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, searching for his purist form stylised as Neo-classicism and Florentine Mannerism from Jacopo Pontormo. It is these very combinations of style, layered upon each other that in turn allow the viewer to see into history of art as being non-hierarchic and each influencing one another through their presence in time, in history. Lehrer, integral to this canon self-reflexivity, style and form reveal power structures that have repressed the continual presence of history as being fluid and non-linear. Furthermore, Lehrer`s personal history is accentuated through the representation of his daughter Anna-Katrina. In Embarkation to Cythera her face contorted by disability is equal to the beauty of the elongated mannerist women by Pontormo. In Sojourns, Anna-Katrina’s hands isolated and layered upon one another and aligned with the Alhambra domes and Andalucian, roses metonymically allude to Flamenco - the dance of suffering. It is in this representation that we glimpse sight of Anna Katrina`s will for presence. Just like the hands that are the only human form depicted in the Alhambra due to Muslim order, these hands break the silence of concrete form and order created by human kind in the world.
Dialogues I through IV
The hands are loquacious, the fingers are tongues and their silence is clamorous (Aurelius Cassiodorus).
The hand acts and acting speaks. This speaking can be as literal as a word, which represents something, or it can be simply like a sound, a pure vocal dynamic. Due to the complexity of the hand’s anatomical structure and of its articulation possibilities, there are in the movement of the fingers alone infinite possible modifications of behavior. So it is possible for hands to both speak (transmit concepts) and to exist as pure sound. Furthermore, there is a universal language that is articulated by the hands, that is intercultural and so in this way Anna-Katrina propelled her presence into the world. Lehrer, by isolating these movements of expression, in the form of these potent lithographs, shows they are elegant and seemingly ordered in actual disorder.
The Rose Season and Boabdil`s Sigh
The Rose Season conciliates Lehrer`s ardor for the Moorish arch, the intensity of the Andalucian Rose and the colors of the Alhambra that gave rise to its name "red castle". Alhambra is from an Arabic root signifying in Arabic the red (Al Hamra) that alludes to a cacophony of influences that co-existed at this time and space in history. In the middle of the 13th Century, Spain offers an example in history when African Muslims (or Moors), large Jewish communities, and Christians lived together harmoniously, and creatively, for several centuries. Arguably the bright red of the rose represents the friendship and positive communication of people from an array of cultures living together in harmony. Whereas the yellow rose connotes dying love and thus dying harmony for union between these people. The poem that gave rise to name: The Rose Season elaborates further a sense of belonging to an epoch of elation.
In Boabdil`s Sigh, the Generalife (the Muslim Jennat al Arid, "Garden of Arid," or "Garden of the Architect") dating from the 13th Century are framed by the "mocárabe". The Generalife gardens are said to depict the original Moorish character. There is repetition of the rose motif plays now, domesticated within glass vases, like clipped hedges and formality of Generalife, and Lehrer`s symetrical garden motif.
Self- portrait with almost everything
The self finds articulation in not only in material things but also the metaphors and narratives related to intersubjective social life. Fields of memory and experience are created like a web through materiality. In Lehrer`s self, Fleur-de-lis an icon of purity leads to student experiemtenation in art and life. Giving way to fascination of Persian patterns, this was arguably a period of existentialism for Lehrer. Subsequently, part of The Fall of Icarus Peter Brueghel the Elder, 1558. Here Lehrer expresses visually, by being close with Anna-Katrina how he felt her raw will to live-expressed similarly by the framed electronic heart-beat, but never reached as, she did, the sun.
Birth of Venus & Barcarole
There is an innocence about these pieces. The name The Birth of Venus, a painting by Sandro Botticelli 1485–1486 is not strictly classical in form. It is a presentiment of Mannerism-a favored style throughout Lehrer`s work. In Barcarole The water layered upon one another is arguably self-reflexive. In that, wisdom of survival, takes water-like pliancy and anonymity. That the waters are from Venitian canals in both Barcarole and Venus permits a peek into the history of Venice as an international trading port for art in the 15th Century, where it was a time of great occidental and oriental exchange. This is indeed intristic to Lehrer`s conceptual and artistic maturation.
Anna Katrina Entering Heaven
Anna-Katrina Entering Heaven is a deeply personal depiction of Lehrer`s daughter entering heaven. Based upon The Burial of Count Orgaz, by El Greco, in Lehrer`s print Anna-Katrina`s soul is being assisted in its ascent by an angel. It is the archangel Gabriel from Pontormo`s Annunciation. The emphasis of pathos is powerful for the closing moments of her life. This Giorgione like emotion is both poignant languid. Poignancy for that concentrated anticipation frozen in time depicted through computerized records of her fading heartbeat, languid through that sense of continuity to infinity on the horizon. Anna-Katrina`s infinite presence becomes embodied within the angels from Mannerist (Renaissance-Baroque style) of the 15th-16th century that become a leitmotif throughout Lehrer`s work. Through the visual arts Anna-Katrina lives eternal and it is this very medium that first breathed exuberance of life into Lehrer. There is a full circle. There are subtle representations of Judaism within this piece. Part of the Jewish faith believes that life is about embracing suffering and that people will find divine redemption in heaven. His daughter through her transformation into an angel embodies this divine redemption.
Kaddish denotes the Jewish rituals of mourning. The liturgy Kaddish is spoken in Aramaic, however, the complete Kaddish ends with a supplication for peace. This is in Hebrew and from the bible. The prayer, the Venetian canals bordering the print on the left and right, the presence of Anna-Katrina at the foot of the print and the remembrance of two hundred and four Jews that were deported from Venice and only eight returned from the death camps metonymically persist with Lehrer`s continual Jetzzeit This presence of now echoes Benjamin’s: “Don`t start with the good old things, but the bad new ones” (Benjamin:1940). It is through this choice of perhaps uncomfortable remembrance that time is redeemed and the messiah arrives. Growing up with the memory of Eastern European Jews being at the hands of a terrible fate in war, and Lehrer’s paternal family being among the fortunate to have been able to emigrate to the United States in the 1920’s, and the concurrent memory of his mother’s two sisters and their families, the only of her large family who survived the death camps, and who lived with the Lehrers as they later adjusted to their new lives and their new country. It was in Philadelphia as a young boy that Lehrer found his supreme choice of triumph over loss in sketching, drawing, painting and printmaking. Perhaps it is this personal past that is latent within his art - the essentiality to blast the past and the present into the future to redeem the victims from the past. The need to adjust, to mend, through attrition.
Lehrer`s work is of a deeply personal nature, but his gest is toward social issues. Gest used by is where all the components of an artistic piece contribute to elicit a social theme. Lehrer`s tableaux`s didactically condenses past, present and future revealing mediations on the structures of the artistic cannon, faith and morality, hope and the virtues of attrition.