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.
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.
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 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?”