Marilyn Lerner

Marilyn Lerner was born in Milwaukee Wisconsin.  She received her BS degree from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee,WI,and MFA from Pratt Institute , Brooklyn, New York.  She has had solo shows at the Butler Gallery Museum, curated by Anna O’ Sullivan, Kilkenny, Ireland; John Good Gallery, NY; Robert Morrison Gallery,NY. Group exhibitions include Full Tilt, curated by John Yau, Novella Gallery , NY; Susan Hartnett, Ralph Humphrey, Marilyn Lerner, Donna Nelson, curated by Klaus Kertess, Mary Boone Gallery, NY; Aspects of Abstract Painting Since 1970, curated by Lilly Wei, Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art. She has been awarded fellowships and grants from the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Individual Artist Grant; Indo American fellowship Fulbright Scholarship; New York Foundation for the Arts; The New York State Council For The Arts; National Endowment  For the Arts; McDowell Colony Fellowship. Her work has been written about in the Irish Times, New York Times, Art Forum, Arts Magazine, Art in America, Hyperallergic, Bomb  Magazine, Flash Art.


Music seems to play a pivotal role in your painting process.  Can you explain how that works for you?


Squaring, oil / wood, 24” x 32”, 2014

Squaring, oil / wood, 24” x 32”, 2014

I make abstract geometric oil paintings on wooden panels. The most frequently asked question about my work is How do you approach color” or “Do you practice any specific color theory”? My answer is that the color in each painting is determined by the relationships between the geometric shapes within each painting. Each individual composition necessitates a different exploration of color. I follow no specific color theory but music has always had a powerful impact on my work.

I have always listened to music when in the studio. I’m a serial listener and focus on specific music for months, sometimes years at a time. I was introduced to Javanese gamelan music in the 1980’s which was an musical epiphany. My response was to make paintings that reflected the sound of the music . My paintings developed into primarily black and white color with small notations of vibrant colors. Gamelan music is slow and elegant expressing an otherworldly sound yet relating to sounds in nature. Since there are cycles of sounds it could be visually interpreted as a circular form. I was painting on shaped formats at this time repeatedly using the circle. Over the years I have gone back to working with more traditional formats such as the square and rectangle. Yet, in my show at CUE which opens September 8th I will exhibit two paintings using a circular format. Many artists and musicians musicians have been influenced by this music examples being Claude Debussy and Philip Glass

Back and Forth, oil / wood, 48” x 36”, 2016

Back and Forth, oil / wood, 48” x 36”, 2016

I traveled to Jogjakarta, Java at this time to see the music performed at the Kraton ( palace ). The gamelan orchestra was accompanied by dancers and singers. It was a very moving experience since I had only heard this music in my studio and now I was seeing the actual performance in the beautiful environment in which it was meant to be performed.I subsequently made annual trips to Indonesia for the next six years. Since I wanted to expand my color vocabulary I experimented with color interaction between adjacent colors and other colors within the painting. The visual weight and movement of color helped me explore other palettes and approaches to color. A slow but exciting process. About eight years ago there was a radical shift in my choice of music. Rai music was a new exciting music I had never heard before. I began listening to Algerian Rai which is a fusion of Bedouin and popular music. It’s sung in both Arabic and French and sometimes both languages in the same song. The music relates to American blues and is sung with expressive and powerful emotions. My palette exploded with hot pinks, exuberant yellows and intense oranges. This was quite surprise. I still incorporate black and white but to a lesser degree. One of the joys of music is that I can enclose my studio in an environment of sound and allow the music to participate in the painting process. I have no idea how the color will develop in each painting but try to follow the trajectory that each painting takes and after often feels like a blind leap of faith. My interest is to explore the psychological aspects of color we recognize along with many decisions that are random and intuitive.

What Goes Around Comes Around, oil/wood, 36” circle, 2015 -2016

What Goes Around Comes Around, oil/wood, 36” circle, 2015 -2016

The interest between music and color goes back to ancient civilizations . There is a gift that few people have called synesthesia where one sense affects another. This might be hearing a sound and seeing a shape or seen a color and hearing a sound. I do not possess synesthesia but feel deeply inspired by my choice of music. This is not uncommon among artists, think about Kandinsky who has written extensively about his color experience. I feel fortunate to have access to the world of music which impacts and enriches my life.

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