Studio visit with Lucia Hierro

Lucia Hierro
Lucia Hierro, On That Grind

Contributed by Kate Liebman / On Valentine’s Day I visited Lucia Hierro in her studio in the Bronx where she has been working for more than two years. Nearby, a group of former factory buildings are in the process of being converted into artist studios and lofts. Born and raised in New York City, Lucia also spent a few years in the Dominican Republic, where both her father and mother grew up. Her work feels inextricably tied to her experience of New York City, and, more specifically, to her community in the Bronx and Washington Heights. A few of Lucia’s pieces are on view through February 25 at Elizabeth Dee’s show “Selections by Larry Ossei-Mensah”, a handsome show that features four artists – Derek Fordjour, Emily Henretta, Lucia Hierro, and Kenny Rivero — who live and work in Harlem and the South Bronx.

Lucia Hierro
Lucia Hierro

Trained as a painter, Lucia now works with digitally-printed imagery and felt. When talking about her work, I called them paintings, then paused, and said, “Can I call them that? Do you think of them as paintings?” She laughed. We settled on calling them “the work,” though it’s clear that Lucia pays careful attention to painterly preoccupations: color, scale, composition, mark.

One of the central concerns that exists in Lucia’s work is the idea of ‘readability.’ By this, I mean what a viewer can read (literally, text), but also a deeper notion of understanding.

For the past few years, Lucia has been working with pages from The New Yorker. Lucia reads and enjoys the magazine regularly, and has since her childhood, but her New York encompasses so much more than what the magazine features. She began collaging Matisse-inspired cut-outs of her friends, New Yorkers themselves, directly onto the magazine’s pages. It feels like these collaged images undercut the implied authority that the article introducing the magazine — the  “The” — denotes.

Lucia Hierro
Lucia Hierro, $135 For Two
More recently, Lucia has been crossing out text with a sharpie or pen and then printing those “edited” pages digitally to make wall pieces. The idea first realized itself when Lucia ran into an old friend on the subway, and she asked him to cross out the parts of an article that were not relevant, or the words he didn’t know. By the end of their long ride together, he had crossed out most of the article. But this gesture is personal, too. One of the pieces on view at Dee is titled $135 for Two. Lucia explains, “My boyfriend and I were having a bad week financially when I read that article.” The crossing out has a weight and a rhythm to it, and starts to feel almost musical. Some text is completely hidden behind the thick, confident sharpie mark, and the words left legible create a poem that pokes and prods, and proffers some kind of cultural critique. What’s left is a good-humored irreverence, absurdity and sadness:
The rich / its latest iteration / offering steak for more than $100. // the opulence / sitting there with Papa and Cheever and Steinbeck staring you down // elevated low to elevated high / one night, / at one hundred and thirty-five dollars for two.

We discussed the role of humor in her work. When I suggested the work was funny, she agreed…sort of. She said that she will get to a place in her studio where she feels sad, and she approaches that self-pitying state, and feels she has to laugh, that the seriousness of the work doesn’t mean that humor has no place. We agreed that laughter can often be an inadvertent reaction to feeling uncomfortable, to not knowing what to feel, or how to read what’s put in front of you.
Lucia Hierro, Navideño
Lucia Hierro, Navideño
Lucia’s foam and felt pieces — the size and shape of a crib’s mattress — bring this issue of ‘readability’ to a different level. Her compositions knowingly borrow from traditional, European still life paintings. The pieces feel extremely domestic, not just materially (stitching and fabric), but also because of the images she has included on them. We discussed the piece Baño for a while. The images she stitched onto this piece were clearly concerned with domestic, female experiences: a Mary Cassatt painting of a woman gently bathing her daughter is juxtaposed with two jars of hair cream labeled in Spanish near toothbrushes in a glass. Lucia told me that the images of hair cream she included have a very specific cultural resonance: the product is sent to New York from the Dominican Republic, and sold in very specific stores for certain types of curly hair. The depths of associations that these two images elicit might vary widely among a single audience, and Lucia seems to relish that. Yet, no matter how familiar or unfamiliar the images, a conversation between them is inevitable and engaging.
Lucia Hierro, Baño
Lucia Hierro, Baño

Lucia understands this notion of readability in the context of empathy: how do we read others in this city, a city whose de facto segregation and gentrification patterns can be witnessed during one long ride underground, on the subway? “When I get on the train in the Bronx, it’s all brown and black people. It’s quiet. Then you get to 96th Street, and it’s energetic, talkative white people who get on, and they’re going to work; but that’s moving up now. I wonder what “Stan” thinks of the kid from  the Bronx who is dressed fresh, wearing a bomber jacket and high tops?”

Selections by Larry Ossei-Mensah,” with Derek Fordjour, Emily Henretta, Lucia Hierro, and Kenny Rivero. Elizabeth Dee, Harlem, New York, NY. Through February 25, 2017.

Two Coats of Paint is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To use content beyond the scope of this license, permission is required.

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