I met José Ramón Lerma for the first time in 2004 when he bought two of my photographs at an exhibition of my work. We became friends. Later he acquired more of my photos, and I have a marvelous painting of his on my wall. José was in his seventies when I met him and one of the things that impressed me the most about him was the way he continued to grow and develop his art. He was passionate about his painting and his politics and was working intensely most days. He has worked in varied mediums over time but there is always the powerful sense of his talent and expression. Check out this online gallery for a sense of his work.
Easy Living 2005
Last week I went to the opening of a 60-year retrospective of his own work and of his 43-year collection of other artists work at Art Zone 461 in the Mission in San Francisco. It’s there through May 5th. It was wonderful to see him there in the midst of his art and all the people who appreciate it so much.
This the quote from Rilke he chose for his artist’s statement:
After all, works of art are always the result of one’s having been in danger of having gone through an experience all the way to the end to where no one can go any further – Rainer Maria Rilke, 24 June 1907 (writing about Cezanne’s painting)
It resonates very strongly for me.
… a sixty-year retrospective exhibition for Bay Area artist José Ramón Lerma. Primarily considered an abstract expressionist, he studied at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA, now the San Francisco Art Institute) during its heyday of importance as the center for West Coast Abstraction and associated movements like dada, beat, funk, pop, surrealism, collage and constructions. Lerma experimented fearlessly across genres and avoided categorization. Pure and not simple, Lerma is an artist who recognized, appreciated and participated in the historic Bay Area and California movements starting in the 1950s and continuing through today….
José Ramón Lerma was born in Hollister in 1930. He received a scholarship to the CSFA in 1948 and began classes in 1950. Serving in the Korean War from 1951 to 1953 interrupted his schooling. He resumed studies at CSFA from 1954 to 1958. The artist commented on his early years at the school as having, “…the most impact on my life and art. The art world of the fifties was free of the market and its temptations. There was a certain purity about it.”
My Favorite Freida 1994
These statements are remarkably revealing in laying the foundation for Lerma’s career. They reflect both the influence of his instructors at CSFA and his personal beliefs regarding the traditional gallery. Lerma rebelled against commercialism and the commoditization of art. It motivated him to join fellow artist friends who together founded the Russian Hill Gallery in 1959. Though it closed in 1961, it held exhibitions for beat and abstract artists who previously showed with the early, historic and important artist run San Francisco galleries. Their names are included in Lerma’s résumé as places where he also had solo and group shows: The 6 Gallery, East-West Gallery, The Spatsa and, of course, the Russian Hill Gallery. Infused with history while following a singular path, Lerma’s career mirrors his fierce independence; this anti-establishment stance has, unfortunately, affected his visibility among his peers. ArtZone 461 Gallery anticipates this show will germinate the seeds of increased visibility and long overdue appreciation for this champion of art historic documentation, experimentation and art creation.
I didn’t have my camera but a friend took this photo of José at the show. If you’re in the area, go see it. It’s truly exceptional.