Lorie Hamermesh Interview

We are excited to share this recent interview with Lorie Hamermesh conducted by Peter Scott for The Boston Printmakers Quarterly Letter.

-An Interview with Lorie Hamermesh

Sept 14, 2022
By Peter Scott

This interview is something I’ve wanted to share with the BP Quarterly since Lorie’s exhibit Desire/Shame at Gallery NAGA last September (2021). You can see more of Lorie’s work on her website  and on theNAGA website .

PS  Before your practice as a printmaker, you were a painter. How do you think your painting background informs your work now?

LH  I’ve always been interested in layering of images. In my paintings, I never knew when to stop. I worked and reworked them, covering up hundreds of layers and never sure if a lost layer wasn’t better than the final one. In printmaking, if I don’t like it, I do another one. It is easy to manipulate the sequence of the layers to change the print.

I do have a watercolor layer in each of my monoprints, so I am still painting. The fixed plates can be reused, but I have to do a new watercolor each time, so each print is unique. That’s why they are called monoprints.

PS  So, you find you can unearth the layers as you work?

LH  Yes, with printmaking, but not with painting. In my 2004 show at Gallery NAGA, the images were digitally printed on different media – acetate and sheer fabric – which hung one layer in front of the other. I could separate and interchange the layers and that led to my interest in monoprinting.

The combining of different mark making techniques excites me! Watercolor creates a gentle, uncontrolled, flowing image. I paint watercolor onto a sanded plate, let it dry, then spray to rewet it so it will transfer onto the damp paper when run through my press. Drypoint adds an incised graphic line. I use carborundum when I want powerful, strong marks. Sometimes the medium expresses what I’m trying to say as much as the images.

Every print is an experiment. Every plate is an experiment. I’m not new to printmaking anymore because I’ve been doing it for a lot of years, but I still feel like I’m learning and experimenting with each idea. I had great teachers at the Museum School who taught me many different ways to mark the plates. The ones that seem to suit me are the ones that I use the most. I always try to enhance the meaning through the marks. For my “Desire/Shame” show, most of the figures were done in watercolor, overlain with carborundum hands and dry point drawing.

PS  Within your work, especially in your solo show at Gallery NAGA, Desire/ Shame, you seem to repeat the same figures but place them in different compositions or spaces. What was your intent?

LH  I found a photo of this young ingenue. It didn’t have anything to do with who she was, but it had to do with her vulnerability. Was she naked or nude? Was she comfortable or embarrassed? I printed hands in front of her, protecting or corrupting her innocence. The first print I pulled, I was like, “Oh my god, I can’t show this to anyone!”

I was shocked and embarrassed! Becoming aware of what was behind these feelings led to unlocking of my block. It felt like I was releasing shame.

PS  How do you mean “releasing” shame?

LH  The sexuality, the fear, or the tarnished innocence were loaded themes for me. Through my therapy, I got in touch with buried childhood trauma that I could not talk about. It turned out that the themes I was unconsciously expressing in the prints were the same I struggled with in my life. Making the prints and learning to talk about them released the shame.

PS  In your artist talk, you spoke about how the content of  Desire/Shame came about through trauma and your healing process. What about art-making do you find offers healing for you?

LH  I took a very long break in my art making practice. After my last show at NAGA [2004], I just couldn’t get back to work. I felt like I didn’t have ideas. Any time I tried, I shot down my idea. The longer I stayed away, the more averse I became to going to my studio. I would just stay away.

Through making these prints, which really started as part of my therapy, without pressure of ever showing them, I began working again. I trusted the process and one idea led to another. What I learned was that in the past I got too hung up on the audience and selling the work. When I began making work for myself to inform my therapy, that inhibition lifted and the process of making the work became much freer. I learned that I must only make work for me. My prior shows had become too much of a performance for other people. That’s really why I stopped.

I began again. The scary part was that it had been so long since my last show and I was working in a totally different medium. I probably couldn’t have done it had I not had the realization that it didn’t really matter about the audience. In the end it was well received.

PS  Nearly every figure within your work is directly facing or making direct contact with the viewer. How does the gaze impact the viewer’s relationship to the nude figure?

LH  The figure I used was staring right at the viewer in kind of a seductive pose of desire. There was sexuality there, but she also conveyed an openness and innocence at the same time. Then I had this urge to hide or protect her!

PS  Hide or protect, which?

LH  Good question. Are the hands hiding, protecting or invading?  In some prints, the arms don’t line up exactly over the figure. That was an accident. It almost looked like the dress wasn’t on top of her. There was something invoking multiple identities which I liked.

The accidents are always so welcome. I get my best ideas through accidents!

Sometimes I make plates that go together, then shift a plate from a different print and like it better. I stayed consistent in the size of the smaller prints so that I could interchange the plates and the layers. What was underneath and what was on top could change the outcome, both visually and thematically.

PS  Political/social issues are inherent in the Desire-Shame work. This is a two-edged sword, so I will ask you to speak to that.

LH  There was one print that I called  USA 2020. I had been working on a series of prints of a dress, the bodice of a dress, overlain with strong oversized hands anxiously clutching the forearms. I painted the watercolor plate with red and white stripes, letting the drips dry where they fell. As soon as I pulled the print, I saw the American Flag!  2020 was a precarious year with a dishonest president, a deadly pandemic, and horrific racist police brutality. So many women also coming forward, not just women but men too, to speak about sexual abuse. In 2020, those themes were coming together, and I think all my work spoke to them. Especially the bleeding red and white stripes, that reminded me of the flag and the angst in our country. I think  USA 2020 became the most political of all the works.

The  Desire/Shame theme is not just about sexuality. We were taught, women of my generation, that if you have too much pleasure, you have to pull back. Eating too much dessert isn’t a good thing. There’s always shame connected to seeking pleasure. You end up blocking your own desire because you feel bad about having it.

I was trying to break through that pattern. What I’m working on now is allowing images of fun and frivolity to NOT be blocked, but only slightly contained, letting desire win!

PS  One thing I really enjoyed about your work is the clothing: fashion.

LH  I tried to get away from it, but it keeps coming back. I think I’m attracted to images from the 50’s because that was my mother’s generation. It’s a connection to my mother. I grew up in the 50’s, when women wore dresses and were depicted in ads as the perfect housewife. That resonates with me on an unconscious level. And then there’s the little girl dress, which I think also has something to do with innocence and vulnerability.

PS  The little girl shoes…

LH  Ah, the shoes, not the sexy Louboutins, which I’ve never owned, but are objects of desire. And the little girl shoes, yeah…

PS  So, what are your favorite shoes?

LH  My platforms. The higher the platforms the better. I like to get taller.

Louboutins  carborundum, watercolor  30.25 x 30, 2020