05 April - 30 April, 2023
Desert Nudes is an ongoing series of paintings by Lorena Lohr. Primarily known as a photographer, this suite of twenty two oils on panel, created over a nine year period, culminate into a debut painting show for Lohr. These works are an extension of Lohr’s self-taught dual artistic practice.
Desert Nudes are fundamentally influenced by Lohr’s independent travels on the Greyhound bus and railway lines in America. Her extensive trips across the American Southwest spurred Lohr to create a body of work that harmonises the desert landscape with the female form. Painted at a small scale in a muted dusky palette and in delicate verisimilitude, the works also recall the intimacy of Northern Renaissance devotional paintings. For Lohr, these works are commemorative of the desert - exploring a concept that this landscape whilst being rich with life, is at odds with the desolate expanse that it may otherwise present. The desert is a fertile artistic landscape for Lohr, and assumes the leading role within and across her photographic and painting practice.
Arguably, Lohr’s desire to paint directly ties in to her photographic work. Often, Lohr’s handprints are painstakingly finished with dyes and by hand. At the same time, Lohr’s still life photographic works, particularly those of buildings and signage, evoke painting qualities in texture, colour, surface and composition.
Much like her photographs, Desert Nudes are also borne from an intuitive creative process and can be read as semi-diaristic. Forms and lines pattern out from Lohr’s memories of places visited and rooms encountered whilst travelling along the border of Mexico and the southwestern desert towns of North America. There is a solitude that permeates the works, perhaps reflective of the conditions and experiences which informed their creation. To teach herself to paint, Lohr transformed a closet in her apartment into a makeshift studio, where she spent sleepless nights perfecting her painterly language.
For Lohr, the desert and the female form are intrinsically linked. Lohr’s female subjects appear suspended in time, mid gesture and luxuriating in their surroundings - they fluctuate between moments of longing and or hope. Moving between both interior and exterior, the wood panelled rooms and desert backdrops, landscapes become reflective of the subject’s inner world - these nudes and figures bend and blend with the spaces that they are situated in. For Lohr, the characters she paints are emblematic of escapism - imbued with the promise of and need for freedom. Meanwhile, Lohr’s rendering of female archetypes reinforces them as universal allegories of desire.
She subtly pays homage to the artistic language found in Mannerist painting of the 1530s, where works featured landscapes populated with classical figures emphasising natural beauty. By contrast, Lohr’s Desert Nudes also unearth an entrenched machismo in association with the American West. Lohr reclaims the desert from archetype of masculinity, replacing those characterisations of Outlaw; Lone Star; Cowboy with her imagined, female counterparts and elevating them to near mythological, deity status in their fantasy realm.
Creating works in the traditional technique of oil on panel, Lohr studied and collected reproductions of Northern Renaissance paintings from libraries and second hand bookstores. As such, the works in Desert Nudes parody defining tropes from this era.
The most innovative feature of landscape painting in the 1400s and 1500s was that of the conception of landscape as a vast terrain with deeply receding space. Artists began to depict the distant horizon and capture the palpable atmosphere that lies between the viewer and the horizon. Flemish artists painted portraits often featured desert landscapes evocative of biblical origins. The background was often seen through windows as tools to bring the spiritual world closer to the real world - to make the unattainable attainable. Similarly, Madonna figures were depicted in the domestic environment in attempts to bring the holy figure into familiar spaces and as a way to enhance the experience of private worship for the patron.
Lohr observes that whilst the Americas were discovered in the late fifteenth-century and around the time the Northern Renaissance was at its peak, the American desert remained undiscovered. As such Lohr brings the concepts and aesthetics of the Northern Renaissance to the ‘new frontier’ - a vast, wild and poetic landscape not exploited by the Northern Renaissance artists. In Lohr’s works nude figures fluctuate between desert mirage, mythological goddess and holy apparition. The Madonna in a domestic interior is supplanted by a blue jean wearing blonde, encased in the wood panelling of an American Bar. The devotional quality of these works are enhanced by their encasement reliquary-esque frames constructed from raw silk.