When Word and Image are One: The Visual Literature of Warren Lehrer

Warren Lehrer: Books, Animation, Performance, Collaboration | Center for Book Arts 

January 16 – March 28, 2020

Center for Book Arts , 28 West 27th St, 3rd Flr, New York, NY 10001

Opening Reception: Jan 16, 6:30pm
Artist Presentation: March 26, 6:30pm

Mon-Fri 11am-6pm, Sat 10am-5pm

Warren Lehrer in collaboration with Dennis J Bernstein, Equal Time animation, dimensions variable

“Warren Lehrer has never been satisfied working with words alone, or images alone—to him, the liaison between the two is where a creative work truly springs to life.” Debbie Millman, Design Matters

(New York, NY, Dec 2019) – The Center for Book Arts is pleased to present the work of multidisciplinary artist and writer Warren Lehrer in the forthcoming exhibition Warren Lehrer: Books, Animation, Performance, Collaboration in the Center’s Foyer Gallery, opening January 16, 2020. This solo exhibition explores the artist’s approach to visualizing poetry and prose in multi-branched projects through books, typography, animation, performance. His work explores the vagaries and luminescence of character, the relationships between social structures and the individual, and the pathos and absurdity of life. On view, a selection of work over the artist’s career, featuring books, archival inkjet prints, animations and clips from films and performances.

As a fine art student, Lehrer was enraptured by the marriage of writing and picture making, only to be told by his teachers that words and images should always be kept separate. Persisting with his inspired typographic realizations in books and multimedia projects, Lehrer has since garnered an international reputation as a polymath and innovator. This past November he received the prestigious 2019 Ladislav Sutnar Prize for Lifetime Achievement (Czech Republic) as a “pioneer in visual literature and design authorship… and the transposition of stories and texts into animation, video and interactive media.” In 2016, The Center for Book Arts (NYC) honored him for “extending the field of book arts to the broader worlds of contemporary design, art and literature.” 

Often referred to as “graphic scoring,” the artist/writer has attempted to capture the shape of thought and reunite the oral and pictorial traditions of storytelling with the printed page. At the center of the exhibition is the artist’s newest project Five Oceans in a Teaspoon, a collaboration with poet/investigative journalist Dennis J Bernstein (Paper Crown Press, 2019). In a poem about dyslexia, letters are on the move, words skew out of order, rotate and distort, engaging the viewer/reader towards empathy. In addition to the book, the exhibit features Five Oceans in a Teaspoon animations where words and sentences loop and wind around one another in a poem about a knitting club, letters struggle to become words in a poem about Alzheimer’s, and search for memory, halt, rotate and stretch in confusion, awe and frustration.

Other notable pieces in the exhibit include: Globalization: Preventing the Sameness of the World and clips from 1001 Voices: Symphony for a New America—offshoots of Crossing the BLVD (W.W. Norton) co-authored with Judith Sloan; animations and films used in Lehrer’s performances of his illuminated novel A LIFE IN BOOKS: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley (Goff Books); Lehrer and Bernstein’s first book/play FRENCH FRIES (1984, VSW); and other solo and collaborative bookworks. 

In addition to the Sutnar and Center for Book Arts lifetime achievement honors, Lehrer has won many awards for his books and multimedia projects, including: The Brendan Gill Prize, the IPPY Outstanding Book of the Year Award, the Innovative Use of Archives Award, the International Book Award for Best New Fiction, three AIGA Book Awards, a Media That Matters Award, and grants and fellowships from the NEA, NYSCA, NYFA, Rockefeller, Ford, and Greenwall Foundations. His books are in the collections of MoMA, the Getty Museum, the Georges Pompidou Centre, the Tate Gallery and other museums and institutions. Over the last eight years, Lehrer has been setting stories and text into animation, video, and interactive media. A frequent lecturer, performer and keynote speaker, Lehrer is the Leff Distinguished Professor at SUNY Purchase, and a founding faculty member of the Designer As Author MFA program at the School of Visual Arts (SVA). With his wife Judith Sloan, he co-founded EarSay, a non-profit arts organization in Queens, New York, dedicated to uncovering and portraying the lives of the uncelebrated in print, on stage, in exhibitions, electronic media and through educational programs.

Press Contact: Alexandra Fanning Communications / alex@alexandrafanning.com / (347) 468-0735


"The texts gain their distinctive impact from Lehrer’s graphic scoring, which turns each line, word, and breath into an opportunity for transformation. The daily trauma of school, of studying math, of dealing with death in childhood, is worked out in diagrammatic designs that reinforce our understanding of how the language is working in these poems. Lehrer gives graphic form to the poetic line, using the breaks between phrases or the emphatic attention to certain words as a way to explore the way meaning is produced."
"Lehrer animated the words through kinetic typography so audiences get a visual feeling of what it’s like inside Bleu’s insomniac mind. "
“Warren Lehrer has never been satisfied working with words alone, or images alone—to him, the liaison between the two is where a creative work truly springs to life.”


Animation Stills

Credit: From Five Oceans in a Teaspoon. Poems by Dennis J Bernstein. Visualizations by Warren Lehrer.

Embeddable Animations

Books on Display

Artist Portrait