José Lerma’s recent hyper-painterly portraits are paradoxically austere. The copious amount of paint loaded onto each canvas counters the scant number of brushstrokes: only three to ten per piece. Though impasto typically conveys dynamism and spontaneity, here it rigidly describes static heads from the front or side. Stark and solemn, the faces in profile evoke Piero della Francesca’s classicizing double portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino. Only in place of the early Renaissance master’s diaphanous oil glazes is the opposite extreme: clotted slabs of acrylic. With so few marks and fast-drying paint thickened with gels and other materials, Lerma’s pictures require careful planning. This methodical process and the profound quietude of the resulting images neutralizes the improvisational bravura associated with gestural brushwork. Beyond the unlikely marriage of seductive expressionism and severe neoclassicism, the series contains many more contradictions that challenge expectations of both painting and portraits.
— Antonia Pocock, independent scholar