Riva Lehrer | Indisposable: Tactics for Care and Mourning

Riva Lehrer, Zoom Portraits: Alice Wong, 2020 Graphite, colored pencil on acetate, 25.25 x 31.25 inches

Riva Lehrer, The Risk Pictures: Sharrona Pearl, 2021, Charcoal, pencil, pastel, and collage on acetate and illustration board 25 x 63 inches

Click the button below for the audio and text of the VISUAL DESCRIPTION for Riva Lehrer’s Zoom Portraits: Alice Wong and The Risk Pictures: Sharrona Pearl:

This drawing, framed in black, shows a computer screen with a browser window open within it. On either side of it, you can see hints of blue waves, Lehrer’s screen saver that also suggests the subject Wong’s location on the West Coast. The browser window shows a middle-aged Asian-American woman drawn with black hair parted in the middle; she has bright red lipstick and a mask over her nose connected to the tube for her non-invasive ventilator. She is wearing a stylish black tracksuit with white stripes open at the neck, and gazes out at the viewer with a calm and steady gaze. Below the computer frame Lehrer has written in cursive the following text: “After decades of being a portrait artist I never expected to find myself trying to collaborate from inside my empty studio and from behind walls of glass. But I’ve always known that all portraits are only fragments of a human being a particular moment in the self and the life of the subject. I'm having to work harder to see this person so far away so imperfectly known. Alice Wong and I began our work together in late June. This drawing is the result of at least six Google hangouts meetings. She will still be emerging for me, hour by hour, long after this piece is done. Thank you Alice for your open heart.”
Riva Lehrer, “Zoom Portraits: Alice Wong”, 2020, Graphite, colored pencil on acetate, 25.25 x 31.25 inches
This is a triptych framed in black, featuring two images of bioethicist Sharona Pearl and one of Riva Lehrer. The image on the extreme left shows Pearl framed in a browser window. She is leaning into conversation with a friendly gaze as though she has been caught mid-conversation; she takes up most of the frame although you can see a door and window suggest the room behind her. Her soft hair falls in flowing waves around her face to just below her shoulders; she is wearing a collared shirt that buttons with a small print and it is open at the neck. The center image is a side view of Pearl who has just tilted the computer to show us the view outside her window. We see that the sunset frames a telephone pole and Pearl’s street in vivid color; Lehrer has drawn the slight reflection of Pearl and her computer screen that reflects on the window we are looking through. Pearl smiles and appears to be waiting for us to take it in. The final image on the extreme right is a self-portrait of Lehrer, drawn from a screenshot Pearl secretly took. Her chin is resting in her hand, and she seems to be listening intently. Her red and white short hair falls around her face; she is wearing a soft black v-neck t-shirt and we can glimpse a camisole strap on her right shoulder. Behind her on the left we see studio shelving; on the right a vivid red lampshade and bird images.
Rive Lehrer, “The Risk Pictures: Sharrona Pearl”, 2021, Charcoal, pencil, pastel, and collage on acetate and illustration board, 25 x 63 inches

Riva Lehrer (b. 1958) (she/hers) is a Chicago-based artist, writer, and curator whose portraits celebrate and center people stigmatized due to their physical embodiment, sexuality, or gender identity. Lehrer’s process explores the relationship between artist and subject, working to upend traditional hierarchies of power in artmaking and recognize the intertwined nature of creation.

Riva Lehrer’s Zoom Portraits: Alice Wong and The Risk Pictures: Sharrona Pearl illustrate the paradoxical and sometimes bittersweet nature of care during a pandemic. For Lehrer, a portraitist, the virus stole from her the intimacy of collaborating with the subjects who pose in her studio, a presence whose loss she deeply mourns. These Zoom portraits portray the imperfect but necessary ways in which she is adapting her process as a protection for herself and others. Indeed, the triptych in The Risk Pictures: Sharrona Pearl connects that protection to the PPE frontline medical workers wore as they tended to the sick and vulnerable. Sharrona Pearl, a medical ethicist and historian whose scholarship explores theories and histories of the face, is portrayed here in full-face, a formidable insistence on presence even in the midst of physical absence. The third portrait is of Lehrer herself, based on secret screenshots that Pearl took during their virtual sittings. Similarly, Zoom Portraits: Alice Wong is a potent metaphor for the transformative nature of care. Because of affordances like Zoom, disability justice activist Wong can, in concert with Lehrer, espouse a visibility that sustains crip community.

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Instagram: @rivalehrer