Mark Lerer's Drawings

Inspired by Rodin and Superheros

by Wilson Wong

Superhero at Night by Mark Lerer

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Drawing can be a powerful medium in its own right, as opposed to simply a preliminary stage for making sketches or studies. Although there is a prejudice against drawing as a finished medium, it has more to do with the economics of art than with aesthetics: Some galleries just don't want to deal with an art work that they can't price as high as a painting or a sculpture. At least that' what Ivan Karp at OK Harris Gallery supposedly told Mark Kostabi some years back, inspiring a draftsman of modest talents and large ambition to become a successful schlock painting manufacturer.

By contrast, Mark Lerer is a draftsman of the most earnest kind, judging from his small gem of an exhibition, seen at the Nexus Gallery, the adventurous little East Village venue directed by the photographer Lee Muslin.


Lerer's pencil renderings endeavor to make a direct transcription of what appears before his eyes, and yet his vision is subjective.

It is this personal quality that he manags to impart to each of his drawings that makes them original works of art, whether inspired by the sculptures of Auguste Rodin or the graphic creations of comic book illustrators like Alex Raymond, Neal Adams, and Gene Colan.

The Burghers of Calais

"The pieces in the current show reflect my lifelong fascination with the dramatic properties of the human figure," Lerer has stated, and this preoccupation comes across dynamically in his drawings based upon Rodin's "The Burgher's of Calais" and "The Gates of Hell."

In each of these works, Lerer finds particular qualities that inspire his own best efforts. "The Burghers of Calais" provides him with strong models for character, while "The Gates of Hell" allows him to create compelling compositions with nude male and female figures.

Rodin's themes are transformed in Lerer's hands. In Lerer's drawing "Distraught Burgher," for example, the figure clutching his head in agony has an emotional thrust more reminiscent of Kathe Kollwitz than Rodin.

In another strong drawing called "Principle Burgher," the gaunt face is evoked in myriad pencil siroccos that define the play of light and shadow on its craggy features, lending them the eternal presence of a mountain in a classical Chinese scroll painting.

The Angry Burgher

Entangled Couple

The figures adopted from Rodin's "Gates of Hell" have a human vulnerability in Lerer's drawings that is absent from the original sculpture, for all its indisputable mastery and grandeur. In the more modest medium of lead pencil, their naked writhings bespeak the suppleness of flesh and the torments of earthly desire.

Conversely, in the drawing entitled "Entangled Couple," the sensitivity that the artist lavishes on two figures in erotic embrace suggests the awesome significance that can attend even the humblest act of love.

Among the more pleasant surprises of Mark Lerer's work are the classical qualities he imparts to interpretation of comic book superheroes such as "Batman," "Spider-Man," and "Daredevil." He approaches these subjects with none of the irony of a Pop artist. Rather, he explores them for their genuine expressive possibilities.

His drawing "Superhero at Night" is especially impressive in this regard, with the figure viewed from above crouched, as if to spring, in the center of a circle presumably cast by a floodlight.

Equally interesting is "Batman," with the figure of the familiar caped character fanned out against a setting of rooftops, water towers, and other urban details. The stark contrasts of light and shadow in the atmospheric nocturnal scene are evoked in impressionistic pencil strokes.

Superhero at Night

As with all of the drawings in this refreshingly unpretentious solo outing, the simplicity of the means more than justifies the ends, making Mark Lerer's achievement all the more impressive.

by Wilson Wong

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