The Butler Gallery was delighted to present Circle In The Square, Ireland’s first exhibition of work by the New York based painter Marilyn Lerner. The exhibition is curated by Butler Gallery Director Anna O’Sullivan.
Marilyn Lerner believes that the language of geometry is infinite and embedded in every culture, and that both colour and nuance of surface are integral parts of the dialogue. Her dynamic abstract geometric paintings draw on the power of colour and a vocabulary of elementary shapes and symbols. The use of circles, ovals, squares, rectangles and triangles result in works that range from the spare to the intensely complicated.
While Lerner’s paintings appear to strive towards perfection, that is not the aim of the artist. Up close, one clearly sees her hand at work in the brushstrokes on these slowly realised paintings. For a number of years Lerner built a wide variety of geometric shaped formats for her paintings but eventually settled on the traditional square and rectangle. She now works on wooden panels fabricated to her specification with bevelled edges so that the paintings seem to almost float off the wall.
Geometric abstraction is present among many cultures throughout history both as decorative motifs and as spiritual signifiers themselves. Lerner has always been interested in non-western cultures. She made numerous trips to Morocco and Tunisia in the 1970’s, and to Asia in the 1980’s, trips that greatly influenced and encouraged the geometry in her practice. Lerner elaborates:
I began to travel to Asia in the 1980’s to better understand the art and music, particularly the court music of Central Java. The relationship between colour and sound has always held my interest and I aspired to make paintings that reflected the sound of Javanese gamelan music. The music is developed with cycles punctuated by a gong. The cycles can be repeated numerous times and can be visualized as a circle. This has been a great influence on my work reflected in the compositional development of my paintings. For six years I spent four months of each year living in Bali and visiting Thailand, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and other South East Asian countries.
The early modernist geometric abstraction of Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Kasimir Malevich (1879-1935) and Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) is clearly acknowledged in Lerner’s paintings over her career. Lerner also cites a great appreciation for the paintings of the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), Forrest Bess (1911-1977), Alfred Jensen (1903-1981) and the paintings of Stephen Mueller (1947-2011).
Marilyn Lerner is an extraordinary artist who has been committed to making inventive abstract geometric paintings for over forty years. The paintings and works on paper in this exhibition are highly skillful compositions that radiate color and articulate Lerner’s experiences, both interior and exterior, through form, composition and color. They have a freshness and a modern aesthetic that is truly satisfying.
Marilyn Lerner was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but has lived and worked in New York City for many years. She received her MFA at Pratt University in New York and had her first one-person exhibition in 1969. She has been exhibiting widely over the last forty years, most recently at Terrazzo Art Projects in New York. Lerner has been the recipient of numerous awards including a Fulbright Indo-American Grant to India where she researched gouache paintings from the Jain Cosmologies. Her work features in many public and private collections. Lerner is on the faculty at the renowned School of Visual Arts in New York, where she teaches painting and drawing.
With thanks to the Arts Council for essential annual funding and to the OPW, Intreo, The Heritage Council and Kilkenny Local Authorities for additional assistance.
With grateful thanks to Secure Storage, M.J. McGuinness, www.storeitwithus.ie, who kindly sponsored this exhibition.