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MIRA LEHR: VISUAL IMPRINTS
The Artist’s Earthy Paintings Blur The Line Between The Figurative And The Abstract
TEXT Courtney Powers Curtiss
PHOTOGRAPHY Courtesy of Mira Lehr, Miami Beach, FL


ABOVE: Leaving New York for Miami Beach more than 40 years ago, Mira Lehr found artistic independence and inspiration in South Florida, where she and a group of other women artists founded a women’s art co-op.


ABOVE: A muted palette and translucent layering in “East Wall,” 2002, evoke a meditative mood.

BELOW: Lehr’s love of nature is evident in “Dragonfly Summer,” 2002, an abstract comprising five panels.

 

 

At first glance, the work of Miami Beach artist Mira Lehr seems to echo her surroundings. Lush, earthy and botanical, her paintings reflect her strong, abiding love of nature. She continuously cultivates this passion in her garden, which she designed in collaboration with celebrated landscape architect Daniel Kiley.
Although her immediate environment is a source of inspiration, Lehr does not work directly from nature. Rather, her imagery comes from a collection of “memories of shapes, forms and other things I like,” she says.
Drawing on these visual imprints, Lehr embarks on an intuitive, meditative journey to create each painting — a period that may take less than a week or several months to complete. Painting in her studio or garden, the artist works and reworks each piece, “listening to the forms within the painting to determine her next step,” she says, while waiting for those blissful moments when she enters a “state of grace.”
Throughout the creative process, Lehr is “thinking of the space, the relationships, how one thing affects another,” she says. “I just work until a painting starts to tell me that the parts are well integrated.”
Exuding an Eastern sensibility, her paintings express the spirituality found in nature. Each piece conveys “a kind of quiet, calm, serene space, and I think that’s why people respond to my work,” she says.
Inherently artistic, Lehr began taking art classes as a young child. After high school she pursued a career in art, earning a bachelor’s degree in art history from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., because “in those days you could not take studio art as a major,” she says. Her curriculum, however, included studio art classes.
Upon graduation, she continued her postgraduate studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Later, she returned to New York, and with the assistance of a Rockefeller Scholarship, worked out of a studio in Carnegie Hall.
In 1961, Lehr relocated to Miami Beach and soon became a champion of women artists in South Florida. Influenced by renowned feminist art historian Linda Nochlin, one of her Vassar College professors, Lehr and a group of fellow artists founded The Continuum Gallery, the first women’s art co-op in the Southeast, which opened in 1966 and has since presented countless exhibitions.
“I don’t think of art as male or female, and it’s never really been an issue with me,” she says. “But I like the idea of giving everybody a chance to be recognized. In the ’50s, women had really meager chances. I think we did a lot for the art scene in Miami and for women artists in general.”
The move south also gave Lehr the opportunity to associate with well-known artists such as Robert Motherwell and James Brooks. During those early years, Lehr focused largely on figurative works, but she says, “I didn’t know enough to do any abstraction. Then, little by little, I started to see the spaces that the model would occupy and the space became bigger than the model in a way.”
She uses a mix of acrylic, charcoal and rice paper on canvas to create paintings that can be described as a hybrid
of the figurative and the abstract. Natural forms dominate the surface, but the backgrounds are deep and complex. On closer inspection, they reveal a myriad of contrasts — natural imagery with abstract gesture, dense planes with translucent washes, and rich, abraded textures with a crisp, contemporary structure.
“I have a happy combination of the figurative and the abstract, and that’s always what I wanted,” she says.
Previously represented by Miami galleries Dorothy Blau and Gloria Luria, she is now represented by Elaine Baker Gallery in Boca Raton. Her paintings can also be found in the permanent collections of the Bass Museum, the Art Museum at Florida International University, as well as private and corporate collections.
Currently, Lehr is working on an art book that will make its debut at the Miami Book Fair International in the fall.
For more information, please call Elaine Baker Gallery at 561/241-3050, or visit www.miralehr.com.

ABOVE: Lehr’s love of nature is evident in “Dragonfly Summer,” 2002, an abstract comprising five panels.

 

 
 
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