Post Dia de Los Muertos

Dia de Los Muertos Marigold Parade, photo by Margot Geist, 2010

I was going to write this post on November 1 for Dia de Los Muertos , but time really got away from me and here it’s already the 10th. Oh, well. Perhaps I was also intimidated by this Los Muertos post by a fellow Albuquerque blogger and writer, Kira Jones. She does a great job capturing the spirit and tradition.

Riva Lehrer, In the Yellow Woods, 10 in. x 12 in. acrylic on panel

But still, I have something to say here. In remembering the souls recently departed from my life, I thought of the supremely talented musician, founder of the Church of Beethoven, friend, and all-around fine human being Felix Wurman; I think of my good friend Stuart’s wife, Annie Rodgers; and I think of my beloved guard dog, Diego.

Riva Lehrer, Zora (last portrait), mixed media on panel, 36 in. x 50 in.

And for some unknown reason, though she is still very alive, I thought of Riva Lehrer, a fantastic artist and activist and my old friend from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with whom I recently reconnected. So today I will celebrate the living with a short post about this remarkable woman.

I first met Riva in an anatomy class where, among other things, we had to memorize, draw, and label somewhat competently the entire skeletal and muscular systems (three layers) of the human body. Riva was a good student and a really good draftswoman and her drawings generally put mine to shame. Plus, she had a good sense of humor.  She was always willing to help me, and by the end of the semester I was able to wrangle out a decent-looking skeleton with passable musculature. (As we know, science-y things aren’t my favorite.)

Riva Lehrer, Corner, acrylic on panel, 20 in. x 16 in.

Riva and I became friends and as I got to know her, my admiration and respect for her artistry, skill and perseverance deepened. Riva was born with spina bifida which led to 43 surgeries and over 300 hospital visits. Every day was a challenge. It took a long time for her to graduate because she often felt sick or was in pain. Riva struggled with things that most people take for granted: walking up stairs, sitting in a chair for extended periods, carrying large things, walking long distances (able-bodied people often took the handicapped parking spaces near school). After I graduated and moved back to New Mexico, Riva continued to develop her work, exhibiting in galleries and shows around the country. She still lives and works in Chicago.

Riva Lehrer, Pattern, 1995, acrylic on panel, 18 in. x 24 in.

Riva’s narrative paintings and drawings are like little jewels, figurative works with the power to communicate emotional and evocative stories. She’s drawn to the disabled body in particular: “the disabled body is intensely beautiful—memorable, unexpected, and lived in with great self-awareness. These are not bodies that are taken for granted or left unexplored. This beauty has often stayed unseen despite the constant, invasive public stare.”

Riva Lehrer, Deborah Brod, charcoal/mixed media, 30 in. x 44 in.

I learned from her: about patience and perspective, tenacity, strength, and being in union with life’s circumstances. (And this was when I was young and arrogant and thought I knew something.) Since then, since being kicked into Life and taking up the journey of forgiveness — forgiving reality for what it is, and myself for thinking it should be anything different — I realize that Riva has probably been on this journey for a very long time. She’s lived it well and I appreciate her even more now.  Thank you Riva.

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2 thoughts on “Post Dia de Los Muertos

  1. Thank you, I am going in to my studio at mid day here in Placitas after taking a moment to glance at email, my routine, I have slowed my movements, entering more gracefully the open space of thoughtfulness you have created in your writing.

  2. Thank you for sharing this with me. It’s such a touching post. I really love this quote:

    “the disabled body is intensely beautiful—memorable, unexpected, and lived in with great self-awareness. These are not bodies that are taken for granted or left unexplored. This beauty has often stayed unseen despite the constant, invasive public stare.”

    It’s beautiful 🙂

Talk to me! I spend too much time alone in the studio.

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