photograph of the artist

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Ira:      Born New York City, 1941

     My father, a New York City policeman died from a heart attack when I was thirteen.   My mother, an amateur artist, who was my first contact with art, became sick shortly after my father's death and died before I turned sixteen.   I went to work on Wall Street and then in politics were I met Ruth Ells, a student of Hans Hofmann and it was with her encouragement that I began to paint.  Several of my first paintings were exhibited on East 10th Street, NYC in 1959.  I received my first one-man show within two years of beginning to paint at the Key Gallery on West 57th Street.  The next four years I spent between Majorca and New York.  In 1964, I lived in Mexico for six months then moved on through Los Angeles to San Francisco where I lived for the next three years.   It was in 1969, that I met Corliss, with whom I have created a 38 year artistic collaboration.   We began painting collaboratively in 1969, but it wasn't until 1977, after I had a heart  attack, that our total commitment to our artistic collaboration began.   From this time on we always had a work in progress.

     Our visual vocabulary has evolved with our life.   At first it was necessary to confront the buried angers I felt towards so many of societies institutionalized inequities, and hypocrisies.  Though denounced loudly the deadly sins were and still are secretly adored by the worlds power elite.  I seethed and knew if I were to live I must purge myself of rage.

     Regardless how difficult the circumstances of our life we have painted.   Our collaboration was our life, as individuals we orbited around it.

     In 1990, when our daughter was born,  my life changed.  Our art has reflected these changes.   Although still social / political artists I now try to search for a more positive universality in our imagery.

     In  1978, I began working in photography as a support vehicle for our painting.  Over the years the photography has taken on a life of it's own.  Simple "snapshots" have evolved into a complex imagery on a par with our painted visions, a classically inspired socially political, sexually surrealistic interpretation of our life and times, stereoscopic by nature since that is what our mutual eyes, hearts and minds have decreed.  To confront with honesty and integrity the issues of our sexuality, our world, and our life has been the requirement of this experiment in communication.

      On the surface the world has changed dramatically, but it's foundations are still firmly rooted in the seven deadly sins leaving us with a constant source of pain.  We collaborate so as not to go insane, in the knowledge of just how impotent we are in the face of global madness and greed.  An illusion perhaps, but Corliss and I have been well served by this outlet and we can track our successful survival, through a large body of work, we may not know where we are going but at least we know where we have been.   In 1990, we moved to Berkeley.  We've spent the last sixteen years producing art and raising our child.

          Ira Lesser


photograph of the artist

Corliss:   Born Los Angeles, 1947 

     My art is so interwoven with my life that it is  inseparable.   I am a collaborative artist, I have little interest in what I alone have to say, it is 'known territory'.  I attempted a collaboration in college, but without commitment I found it empty.  I thought I could find a place for myself in advertising but I did not wish to use my art to manipulate the public.  Turning away from monetary pursuits, I found myself on a spiritual path.  I was living in downtown Los Angeles when I met Ira in 1969.  It was a modern relationship,  Ira, twice married, had just broken up with his second wife, and was not ready for any long term commitment.  This suited me, for I obserrved that more often than not love became an entrapment.  We came together with one rule, that neither person would restrict the growth of the other.

     It was Ira who suggested that we  collaborate artisticly  as a way to support ourselves and be together.   The world in 1969, was not receptive to collaborative art, so we created a pseudo-artist.  We bought frames in Mexico, with plans to sell these paintings in mass to hotels.  The business adventure failed because the paintings and their frames were perfect suitcase size.  We spent the next seven years forming the foundation of our dialogue.  This period is a book in itself, a roller coaster ride of events that tested our relationship and gave me the experience necessary to paint from a position of knowledge.

     In 1977, Ira had a heart attack, and open heart surgery.  His interest in collaboration resurfaced and our dialogue began.  We both had much to say.  Ira had been an Expressionist painter.   He chose to initiate the dimensions of a canvas and in his quick style he would paint his thoughts directly onto it, sometimes with direction, other times seemingly none.   He would work the paint into forms and moods progressing as far as his thoughts or energy would take him.    At this point he would surrender control allowing me to paint ona given canvas.  With each painting I focused on it's strengths, creating a style around the parts of Ira's work I held dear.  It was like an ink blot test drawing from me internal imagery.  At first Ira refused verbal communication, thus strengthening my intuitive side and by painting with acrylics we have been able to layer our thoughts and emotions.   Soon our style emerged.   We would work back and forth until we agreed a painting was finished.  Together our individual voices gained a duality, resulting in creations of and outside ourselves.

     We have always kept a painting in progress continuously, and from the very start we have been social / political painters.  In the 1980s, photographic imagery began to appear in our paintings; this was a logical progression, because our photography had been developing along similar lines.   This change affected the way we communicated artisticly and I  began to initiate  concepts for paintings.   Our communication is intuitive, we express a subject, then build on the idea.   Our work mirrors the world around us, and how we view it.  Our goal has been to create enigmas that engage the viewer.


          Corliss Lesser


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