Jonathan Daniel Lerner
B. 1969 New York City
Lerner graduated from Oberlin College in 1992 with a B.A. in English. He studied at The Art Students League of NY from 1992-1996. After moving to Portland, Oregon in 1996, he began showing in galleries and receiving commissions. At this time, he was working in representational idioms: portraits, urban scenes, and still lifes in a style similar to John Register and Edward Hopper.
During his time living in Portland (1996-98) and San Diego, CA (1998-2000) Lerner painted, exhibited and won “Artist of the Year,” getting a write-up in San Diego Magazine and given a solo exhibition by Sony ArtWalk. During this time, he devoted intense study to the practice of Ashtanga yoga, and travelled to India for six months to deepen his knowledge. Afterwards, he moved to Los Angeles, where he spent the next five years teaching yoga and dividing his time between the yoga studio and the art studio. In 2005, after a 10-day meditation retreat, Lerner’s art and yogic development fused in the form of a dramatic spiritual shift that changed his artistic direction completely.
In order to assimilate the new psychic condition, Lerner stopped painting and teaching yoga for the next five years. His only visual art practice consisted of filling up journals with experimental, automatic sketches, drawings, and watercolors. It was a period of diving into Dada, Surrealism, doodling, and other unconscious auto-didactic forms. These journals were openings into the living imagination of the body, and a systematic deconstruction of the mental apparatus built up through western education and acculturation. The process was a painful yet liberating transition into a new, more integrated paradigm. The constructed values of Western mimesis, or imitation of nature, were broken down, allowing for the assimilation of the spiritual values of the Orient, India, and other indigenous cultures. These cultures traditionally celebrate an artist’s vibrational connection to the soul and its co-creative function and meaningful place in the Cosmos.
By 2010, Lerner instinctively gravitated toward textiles, dresses, shoes, sneakers, and handbags, creating paintings that were literally direct expressions of the body, with all of its rhythms, movements, and physicality. After the five-year hiatus, Lerner’s art had devolved and evolved from representational extrapolations into body-based deep sea diving experiences, traveling through layers of consciousness and returning with artifacts of discovery. His process and the artwork would gradually become more confident and courageous over time.
In the last few years, Lerner returned to small canvases and in his recent series, Groundforms (2017), expounds these ideas with more coherent, focused large format pictures that borrow stylistic motifs from Australian Aboriginal painting, although these motifs had been present consistently in his work from the journals and wearable art experiments. It’s interesting to note that this Aboriginal art traditionally was painted directly on the body and only later, in the 1970s, under European/Australian influence, put on canvases. Paintings of the body on the body are symbolic expressions of the body’s imagination that the canvas may obscure. However, when the canvas is the intentional proxy and symbol for the body as alchemical vessel, it conveys the message that these paintings are extensions of the artist’s body. The great Indian Yoga master BKS Iyengar said, “Your body is the child of the soul.” Lerner would add, “The painting is the child of the body and the grandchild of the soul.”
Lerner’s new series has the feeling of both woven textiles and topographical maps in their patterned linear grounds. The paintings have an ephemeral quality, with forms appearing and disappearing, and new ones emerging continuously out of the ground. Individual viewers may see different forms at different times, or when the paintings are rotated. Lerner is interested in the way the visual sense can open the mind and psychologically expand the viewer in a dynamic process. Much like a labyrinth, his paintings draw us in to experience their mystery.