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For EXPO Chicago 2022, Nino Mier Gallery is excited to present recent paintings on burlap and paper by José Lerma.  Lerma is based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Chicago, where he currently holds an Associate Professorship at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he has taught since 2009. 

Until recently, his practice was most responsive to not only the social and material conditions of the cities he inhabited, but also to the works of art put on display by their institutions.  During the height of quarantine, however, the pull away from public life gave Lerma a renewed interest in medium and form.  He began producing a series of reductive portraits comprising as few gestures as possible, made with hand-mixed acrylic paint that produces his signature thick, heavy impasto.  The group of paintings on burlap and paper for EXPO Chicago 2022 are the latest installment in this developing suite of works.

The distillation of form to the basic elements of texture, color, and line in Lerma’s portraits constitute a fascinating investigation of medium, and specifically of how painting can disorient a viewer’s sense of scale.  His figures, stripped of a broader context or situation, become more landscape than individual, an effect that deepens the longer one looks at them. Take a step back and reorient to regard the figures in full, and one confronts what seems to be a small, impressionistic section of a larger painting blown out of proportion.  Lerma’s choice to paint on burlap emphasizes this play with scale, as we see the texture and detail of the painted surface with unusual clarity.  What might first seem like an aesthetic of the elemental, then, here becomes an aesthetic of scalar complexity.

José Lerma (b. 1971) is currently an Associate Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he has taught since 2009.  He has had over twenty solo exhibitions at galleries such as Nino Mier Gallery, Los Angeles (2021), Kavi Gupta in Chicago, IL (2020, 2017, 2014), Galerie Xavier Hufkens in Brussels, Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York, NY (2014, 2010, 2006, 2004), and at museums such as the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (2014), and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (2013).  His works are represented in numerous collections, including The Saatchi Collection in London, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.