Selected works by José Lerma

José Lerma
Samuel Bernard


Acrylic on canvas, synthesizer, speakers

189 x 152 x 43 cm

José Lerma’s works illustrate the rise and fall of powerful historical figures. Either taking inspiration from episodes of Puerto Rico’s wars or focusing on portraying old celebrities such as the banker Samuel Benard – considered the most famous and richest banker in 18th century Europe – Lerma creates his paintings by building layers of ball pen doodles. The heaps of cartoon-style drawings accumulate on the canvas as if struggling for space to exist. They are later combined with an array of household materials – such as pink military parachutes – which are employed in the composition to veil or frame the emerging oversized portraits. Such is the effect of the combination of materials on a large scale that the portrayed subjects become monumental ghostly silhouettes of Baroque effigies.

José Lerma
King Charles II of England


Nylon, acrylic on canvas

236 x 179 x 5 cm

The mammoth scale of his paintings is matched by the crumpled paper accumulations, that when erected within the gallery space, seem awkward imitations of traditional marble busts. Both the kitsch aesthetic and the references to popular culture heroes such as legendary boxer Emanuel Augustus alongside the ‘homage’ to ruling historical figures, suggest a multi-temporal approach to the eternal subjects of war, love and power that populate the annals of art history.

Text © Gabriela Salgado

José Lerma
Madre Perla V-11


Acrylic on canvas, keyboard, güiro

244 x 458cm
José Lerma
& Héctor Madera

Bust of Emanuel Augustus


Paper bust

Dimensions variable


May 2012, by José Lerma, Huffington Post

Last November I visited José Lerma in East Hampton where he was working on two shows, "Jibaro Jizz" at Roberto Paradise gallery in Puerto Rico, and "The Credentialist" at CAM Raleigh, his first solo museum show. I fell in love with an enormous canvas with ballpoint pen blue scribbles depicting an epic scene of caricatured madness.


May 19th 2012,

RALEIGH, NC.- CAM Raleigh’s latest feature exhibition, The Credentialist, a new body of artworks commissioned by CAM Raleigh and created by José Lerma, opened May 19, 2012. José Lerma currently lives and works in New York and Chicago, where he is a faculty member at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Lerma creates intricate installations that combine painting and non-traditional materials such as reflective fabrics and commercial carpet, relying on a compendium of mediums, references, and elements that combine his personal history and extensive academic accolades with his awareness of social history. Lerma originally migrated from Spain to Puerto Rico and now lives between Chicago and Brooklyn, and has multiple degrees in law and art. The Credentialist is a new body of 18 artworks commissioned for the main gallery at CAM Raleigh highlighting his ability to combine and collapse facets of history from his personal viewpoint. Central to the exhibition is the notion of rising and falling, particularly the precipitous demise of great historical figures. The records of these fluctuations are played out on various paintings, curtains, and carpets that occupy the space. 4 large canvases, which imitate ballpoint pen doodle, depict themes such as war, love, and paradise while referencing paintings on the subject by Tintoretto and Piero De La Francesca.

In his paintings, Lerma employs images of Baroque style portraits of historical, famous French Bankers from the 18th Century, which are signified by wigged portraits. The artworks in this exhibition are monumental, featuring a liberal use of brush strokes, doodles, and highlights of paint to underscore the sketch-like quality of the drawings. By distorting and often erasing the features of the faces, only leaving profiles or frontal views of wigs, Lerma’s work also references the paintings of Francis Bacon and Philip Guston.


By Ester Ippolito and Monica Salazar, Berlin Art Link

Jose Lerma’s work relies on a compendium of mediums, references, and elements that combine his personal history and his extensive academic accolades to his awareness of social history. The artist originally migrated from Spain to Puerto Rico and now lives between Chicago and Brooklyn, and has multiple degrees in law and art. It is his ability to combine and collapse facets of history that is best presented in his works now on view in “I am sorry. I am Perry” at Andrea Rosen.
In his paintings, Lerma makes a trend of using images of Baroque style portraits of historical, famous French Bankers from the 18th Century, which are signified by the wigged portraits in some his studio pieces. He started drawing the characters over and over after shooting photographs of them while in law school. The pieces for this exhibition are monumental, somewhat decadent in liberal use of strokes, doodles and highlights of paint. The pastel colors add a lightness to the pieces that works well with the harshness of the profiles of these historically brutal, old bankers.
Lerma places his large works on electronic keyboards as a way of combining previous elements of his oeuvre and collapsing the work together. In a way, it is as if the paintings become active participants in the art. However, beyond this, there is no added meaning to the pianos, a fact stressed with the daily changing of the musical tones the pianos play.
Through the use of acrylic spray paint on canvas, he is able to reproduce the aesthetic of highlighters and pen scratchings on a paper pad in his monumental paintings. He uses this doodling as reference to boredom by taking the tiny gesture of a repetitious action and blowing it up, as evident in the droning electronic keyboard noise and the somewhat tortuous doodling.


22 June 2010, by Ryan Christian, Fecal Face Dot Com

Tell us a bit about yourself Jose?
I was born in Spain, grew up in Puerto Rico in the hospital grounds where my parents worked. Moved to New Orleans for college and then Law School at UW-Madison. At 27 I took a class with TL Solien (who was an amazing teacher, and a mentor) freaked out completely, dropped out of law school during my last year and decided to study art.
How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it? What are some of the driving inspirations behind your work. What has influenced you in big ways?
I make paintings and works about painting. I try my best to collapse the personal with the art historical and to fit both within a single frame. This is something many artists do, but I just wanted to make it central to my practice. Although the works and paintings change dramatically in terms of material, the common thread is some story I heard my mom say, for instance, or some ugly piece of furniture in their living room or some dorky thing I did in my youth. Then I try to fuse this with some historical event, person or artistic style. This sounds cheesy, but I always say that all art is about other art and about your parents.


January 2011, by Amanda Schmitt

Lush and tactile, the canvases heavy with paint, José Lerma is known for his texturally seductive, semi-abstract paintings that allude to the idea of a formal portrait. Recognized for his abstract, expressively personal paintings, Lerma ventures off the canvas to a conceptual, almost sculptural practice in his latest show, “I am Sorry I am Perry” at Andrea Rosen Gallery. In three parts, the bankers, the curtain, and the keyboards, Lerma references both personal and historical narratives, yet encourages the viewer to create their own.

AS: Rather than just a showing of new paintings, “I am sorry I am Perry,” seems to me to be a very thoughtful exhibition with clear formal and conceptual intentions. Are you both the artist and the curator?

José Lerma: I had planned this exhibition around 3 elements I had worked with in the past. Curating is a good way of putting it. Even before I started making art, I loved Mardsen Hartley's paintings of Von Freyburg. I like the idea of a collection of objects and stories collapsing on each other and becoming, in effect, a portrait. In that sense, all my shows are a kind of curated self-portrait. However I didn’t want it to feel like discreet parts that were there to be decoded instead I wanted the viewer to arrive at kind of “fourth reading”; I love when clarity devolves into babble and facts become aesthetics. What I mean is that what matters to me is the effect the parts have on each other and not their individual meanings.

Source: amateurartcriticnyc.blogspot