Beth Lerman was born in 1983 in the San Francisco Bay Area into a family of nerds, and the characters that she incorporates into her work reveal that she is unquestionably a product of that particular time and place: the X-Men, old Nintendo games, and all the rest. The presence of these characters situates her art geographically and generationally, but when these figures are recontextualized in her paintings, they are drawn out of their temporal locus and into a universal, mythological sphere. Bert and Ernie in the Garden of Eden, Princess Leia as Eurydice, The Star Trek trickster, Q, as the Hierophant of the Tarot—these characters may not have existed centuries ago, but they are avatars for archetypes that stretch back through human awareness for millennia. Lerman’s art initiates us into a conversation spanning empires and aeons.
Previously working in acrylics and oils, Lerman began painting exclusively in the mixed or Mische technique of the Flemish masters in early 2011. This technique, which involves layering egg tempera with oil paints, lends itself to producing works with exceptional depth and luminosity. While this technique has recently been favored by the Visionary Art movement, Lerman prefers to employ it in a more classical context. Into these traditional settings, she introduces her pop cultural icons, creating juxtapositions which are both humorous and absurd.
But Lerman’s goal is only partially to highlight the absurd. Primarily, she chooses her subject matter with the intention of exploring and delighting in the syncretism between contemporary and classical myth structures. Lerman spent her years at Sarah Lawrence College studying philosophy and Greco-Roman mythology through the lens of art history. All people are steeped in the mythos of their own generation, regardless of whether those myth structures center on the Greek pantheon or The Muppets™. The mythological players take on various roles in the psyche, and it is those roles that she works to retrieve from the collective unconscious and make explicit through her art.