Honoring a Teacher: A Tribute to Leslie Lerner

During my first trip to Sarasota, in 2017, I visited the Ringling College of Art and Design where I discovered a beautiful painting by Leslie Lerner. As a gift, I was also given a monograph, published by the school, which highlights the life and works of the distinguished artist, educator, and true visionary. Jeff Schwartz, the Dean of Undergraduate Studies, suggested that we show Leslie Lerner’s work at Art Ovation Hotel. Now, two years later, we are pleased to present an exhibition featuring paintings, drawings, and sculptures by this talented individual, as well as works by some of his former students whom, over the years, became distinguished artists in their own right.

Leslie Lerner (1949-2005) began his artistic career in California in the 1960s, where he was influenced by San Francisco’s pop culture Hollywood’s stage sets. He became a sort of “visual writer” whose paintings depicted the tales of an imaginary voyage titled “My Life in France.” His magnificent world was inhabited by his alter-egos “The Man with the Wooden Arm” and “The Poor Boy.” Through his illustrated stories, he was able to transport the viewers to fantastic places and share with them a beautiful, dreamlike world.

On September 10, 2005, Leslie Lerner passed away after a long illness. A Fine Arts faculty member for fifteen years at Ringling College of Art and Design, he taught and influenced many students who would go on to become professional artists. “Leslie Lerner was a great instructor,” says Michael Crabb, one of his pupils. “He was the most passionate person I knew. He taught me the most about art and provoked my young mind in a unique way. He was dear to my heart.”

Art Ovation Hotel and Ringling College of Art and Design honor Leslie Lerner’s legacy in this exhibition featuring a selection of paintings, drawings, and sculptures by the late master, as well as works by six of his students: Michael Crabb, Tim Jaeger, Julie Kanapaux, Claudia Ryan, Nancy Turner, and Shawn Pettersen.

Michael Crabb’s paintings strive to capture shapes and forms through a variety of mark making and texture within a strong composition. Tim Jaeger’s works are gestural constructions inspired by Florida’s symbols and imagery. Julie Kanapaux’s unique fusion of graphics and fine art result in inspiring pieces that combine different physical spaces and experiences. Claudia Ryan’s paintings are inspired by her own private world, while Nancy Turner’s work stresses a critical view of women’s experiences, notably discrimination and violence. Finally, Shawn Pettersen places animals in NASA-based photographs to suggest a relationship between the epic-yet-detached historical loss and contemporary displacement.

Each artist has his or her purpose, style, and aesthetic language, and, like their mentor, they depict the places, people, and stories, that move them in a variety of mediums. Through their participation in the exhibition, they acknowledge and honor Leslie Lerner’s legacy.

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