Museum  January 14, 2020

When Word and Image are One: Warren Lehrer's Visual Literature

Disaster Relief poem by Dennis J Bernstein, design by Warren Lehrer.

New York, NY – The Center for Book Arts is pleased to present the work of multidisciplinary artist and writer Warren Lehrer in the exhibition Warren Lehrer: Books, Animation, Performance, Collaboration in the Center’s Foyer Gallery, opening January 16, 2020. This solo exhibition explores the artist’s approach to visualizing poetry and prose in multi-branched projects through books, typography, animation, performance. His work explores the vagaries and luminescence of character, the relationships between social structures and the individual, and the pathos and absurdity of life. On view, a selection of work over the artist’s career, featuring books, archival inkjet prints, animations and clips from films and performances.

As a fine art student, Lehrer was enraptured by the marriage of writing and picture making, only to be told by his teachers that words and images should always be kept separate. Persisting with his inspired typographic realizations in books and multimedia projects, Lehrer has since garnered an international reputation as a polymath and innovator. This past November he received the prestigious 2019 Ladislav Sutnar Prize for Lifetime Achievement (Czech Republic) as a “pioneer in visual literature and design authorship… and the transposition of stories and texts into animation, video and interactive media.” In 2016, The Center for Book Arts (NYC) honored him for “extending the field of book arts to the broader worlds of contemporary design, art and literature.” 

Pain Relief poem by Dennis J Bernstein, design by Warren Lehrer.

Often referred to as “graphic scoring,” the artist/writer has attempted to capture the shape of thought and reunite the oral and pictorial traditions of storytelling with the printed page. At the center of the exhibition is the artist’s newest project Five Oceans in a Teaspoon, a collaboration with poet/investigative journalist Dennis J Bernstein (Paper Crown Press, 2019). In a poem about dyslexia, letters are on the move, words skew out of order, rotate and distort, engaging the viewer/reader towards empathy. In addition to the book, the exhibit features Five Oceans in a Teaspoon animations where words and sentences loop and wind around one another in a poem about a knitting club, letters struggle to become words in a poem about Alzheimer’s, and search for memory, halt, rotate and stretch in confusion, awe and frustration.

Other notable pieces in the exhibit include: Globalization: Preventing the Sameness of the World and clips from 1001 Voices: Symphony for a New America—offshoots of Crossing the BLVD (W.W. Norton) co-authored with Judith Sloan; animations and films used in Lehrer’s performances of his illuminated novel A LIFE IN BOOKS: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley (Goff Books); Lehrer and Bernstein’s first book/play FRENCH FRIES (1984, VSW); and other solo and collaborative bookworks.

In addition to the Sutnar and Center for Book Arts lifetime achievement honors, Lehrer has won many awards for his books and multimedia projects, including: The Brendan Gill Prize, the IPPY Outstanding Book of the Year Award, the Innovative Use of Archives Award, the International Book Award for Best New Fiction, three AIGA Book Awards, a Media That Matters Award, and grants and fellowships from the NEA, NYSCA, NYFA, Rockefeller, Ford, and Greenwall Foundations. His books are in the collections of MoMA, the Getty Museum, the Georges Pompidou Centre, the Tate Gallery and other museums and institutions. Over the last eight years, Lehrer has been setting stories and text into animation, video, and interactive media. A frequent lecturer, performer and keynote speaker, Lehrer is the Leff Distinguished Professor at SUNY Purchase, and a founding faculty member of the Designer As Author MFA program at the School of Visual Arts (SVA). With his wife Judith Sloan, he co-founded EarSay, a non-profit arts organization in Queens, New York, dedicated to uncovering and portraying the lives of the uncelebrated in print, on stage, in exhibitions, electronic media and through educational programs.

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