Damon Lehrer, Rick Berry

Two things stand out about Damon Lehrer’s paintings—(1) paint doing what it’s meant to do and (2) naked ladies.

Lehrer’s art is featured with paintings by Rick Berry in “It Figures” at William Scott Gallery in Boston, which has operated in Provincetown since 1995 and opened in Boston in February.

Berry of Arlington, Massachusetts, has a flashy (sometimes too flashy), brooding, sexy, bravura style of illustrative painting in the tradition of LeRoy Neiman. [Berry's "The False Maria" is pictured above.] It’s a style that has made him a premiere illustrator for Marvel and DC comics (including Neil Gaiman’s 1990s gothic fantasy series “Sandman”) and various book publishers (he’s often credited with the “first digitally painted cover for a novel in the world” for his cover for William Gibson’s 1984 novel “Neuromancer”).

But we’re more interested in Lehrer, whose realism is, well, more meaty. Lehrer lives in Lexington and shares his Somerville studio with the Boston Figurative Art Center, an organization he founded to promote figurative art in Boston, and his paintings often have the verisimilitude as well as a staginess that can come from working faithfully from live studio models. Lehrer’s technique is lush, and rife with the enjoyment of paint as he imagines the scantily-clad models in fantasy scenarios.

For example, his painting, originally titled “The Nymph” (pictured above), of a bored-looking blonde woman in blue underwear laying prone on pillows in an imagined wilderness. (He’s since renamed it “Girl in Woods (Blue Bikini).”) Or “Lethargic Picnic,” which features two naked guys and a naked lady tangled up together, and tangled with a tiger as well, all set in a sketched in landscape leading to a blue, blue sea. Or “Boxer” (pictured at top), which depicts a topless busty blonde woman wearing boxing gloves, shorts and mismatched shoes. She stands in a heroic desert and mountains landscape, with her arms raised, hiding her face (and making her anonymous), and showing off her breasts. In “Pirates” (pictured below), a pale naked lady embraces or wrestles a pirate above a tropical beach. A string of pearls shatters in her hand. He’s wearing Timberland boots—which breaks the illusion of historical (and somewhat cheesy) fantasy, gives the scene an air of B-movies, and reminds us of the bizarro studio reality.

Basically we’re in Bouguereau territory, but with the Frenchman’s neoclassicism replaced by a pulp sensibility—and thongs. Lehrer’s paintings also bring to mind John Currin’s ironic paintings of naked ladies. But there’s no irony in Lehrer.

“It Figures: Rick Berry and Damon Lehrer,” William Scott Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., Boston, Sept. 9 to 30, 2011.
Berry “Club Night”

Berry “Amanda in ‘Cabaret’”

Berry “Blind Faith”

Berry “Ride”

Lehrer “Itinerant”

Lehrer “The Grownups”

One Response to “Damon Lehrer, Rick Berry”

  1. Thomas Garvey says:

    I like Lehrer. I wrote about him years ago back when I was writing in print. I think “The Grownups” is quite strong; he has a surreal sense of mystery (when he wants to), which separates him from the likes of Bouguereau – although actually, I like Bouguerea too. (What can I say.) But there’s a distinct atmosphere of sleepy, smart contempt about Lehrer that’s unique and interesting – I just don’t think he has yet found a way to consistently deploy it. Btw, I’d like Berry, too, if he’d lose the “graphic novel” bullshit and really paint something. If Lehrer struggles with content, Berry lets the market dictate it for him.