Veiled Passions

Virginia Anderson

When Lorie Hamermesh and I began to discuss the recent evolution of her work, she started by handing me a photograph taken at the wedding of her son, Josh. In the snapshot, josh and his bride, Jessica, stand together before the rabbi just beneath the front edge of a chuppah, or marriage canopy. The chuppah is one that Lorie made for the ceremony, two layers of fabric, sheer over opaque, depicting roses, grapes, and pomegranates (symbolizing romance, joy, and fertility respectively) intertwined with a sturdy grape vine and a second delicate, lacy vine. The creation of the chuppah was a catalyst that took Lorie down a path of experimentation with silk-screening and the layering of sheer fabrics that has given rise to this new body of work.

In that small snapshot of the chuppah, so many of the qualities that characterize Lorie’s artistic production are evident—a passionate drive to create, an intuitive exploration of materials and process, an attention to beauty, and a willingness to take her personal experiences and intimate emotions and offer them, as a gift, to her family, friends, and audience.

For the exhibition Veiled Passions, Lorie has created a body of work that continues to encompass those personal qualities and directly engages with broader issues of womanhood, longing, and sexuality. Each piece in the show has been designed as a fabric screen—onto which layers of color and images have been painted, printed, and sewn—mounted over a collaged surface which itself has been layered with imagery in a variety of materials: paint, printed images, fabric, lace. Finding the right materials to depict an image in exactly the right manner has always been an integral part of Lorie’s process. In this body of work, she has expanded her repertoire of materials to include a unique combination of traditional and contemporary media. In these pieces, stitching and embroidery are used to embellish the edges of an IRIS print on fabric, and color photocopies are layered into a collage with paint. The complexity of materials requires a patient looking on the part of the viewer, to identify and savor the variety of elements.

Veiled Desire (2000), one of the largest works in this group, combines these materials with imagery that suggests both sensuality and restraint. The central image is an IRIS ink jet print on translucent silk, made from a 1964 snapshot of Lorie and her date (her face soft and blurry, his entirely washed out) just before their high school prom. The anonymous beau stands just to the young woman’s side, his right arm around her. She is wearing a white sleeveless calf-length dress and white gloves that reach up to her elbows. She does not reciprocate his gesture, but holds with both hands in front of her a small bouquet, her arms slightly akimbo. The constrained, doll-like pose is emphasized by the broad smile on her face, simultaneously eager and tense. This image on the covering screen is outlined by hand-stitched thread that renders the young couple immutable, frozen. In contrast to this image is Alexandre Cabanel’s The Birth of Venus (1863), which the artist has placed, via a collage of color photocopies, on the back surface of the piece. Venus’s lush, smooth body, displayed with erotic abandon, rides an ocean wave of physical desire. The expressiveness of her pose underscores the repressed sexuality of the white-clad woman floating before it.

In the three-dimensional space of Veiled Desire, these juxtaposed images are surrounded by curling vines printed onto organza fabric; painted arabesque scrollwork; the painted and collaged image of a flower at four stages of existence (bud, early bloom, mature bloom, and breaking apart); and a silk-screened image of a girl standing in front of her grandmother, taken from a family photograph. The whole piece reads as a meditation on what it means, physically, to be a woman, and how desire can be expressed—or not—at the different stages of one’s life.

In making her work, Lorie constantly adds and subtracts elements from her pieces, covering and revealing sections of imagery in an intuitive process. This is visible in a series of smaller-scale pieces, many of which are centered on the image of a vase of flowers. In Flower Power for Real (2000), as in Veiled Desire, there is an ongoing relationship between the layers of the piece. The floral still life at the center of Flower Power is elegantly rendered on the top layer, as the edges of a deep blue silk-screened image of a vase of flowers create a lacy silhouette against the fabric. The blue of this silk-screen partially shadows what lies beneath, a collaged image of poppies, taken from a newspaper illustration. Curling vines are also printed, then stitched, onto the top layer, casting intricate shadows onto a patch of white paper in the collage. Underneath the veil, however, the poppies burst forth in black, red, and yellow. A powerful and raw beauty reaches out from behind the decorative, delicate surface to captivate the viewer.

The addition of the fabric screen in these works has enabled the artist to work with light and color in a new way. Like a painted glaze, the screen alters the tones of the surfaces below. In Veiled Romance – For Susan (1999), the color of the overlying screen itself serves as a veil, shifting from dark blue at the top to a paler, almost sheer pink at the bottom. The vines printed upon that screen move in the opposite direction, from light to dark. The underlying painting changes from blue to yellow, enhancing the colors printed above and adding a radiant depth to the surface, like stained glass. The piece is full of swirling motion and romantic touches, as printed vines and stitched petals play off of the richly painted surface beneath.

The screen also diffuses light as it hits the surface of each piece, resulting in a soft smokiness, as in Flowers (1999). The outlines of the central vase image are scored into the paint below, a simple glaze of beige with touches of brown. The screen above has been lightly printed in pale green with a picture of flowers taken from a vintage seed packet, fleshing out the outlines below. Flowers is quiet and glowing.

Personal experience is the basis for the themes that surface in Lorie’s pieces. Family, the evocation of memory, the conventions of femininity, maturity and aging are all present in this body of work, but sexuality and desire are addressed here directly for the first time. In Veiled Longing (2000), the outlines of a woman’s voluptuous torso and legs softly emerge from a flowering red gown, composed with pieces of gauzy fabric. The gown is set against a darkening seascape and sky, and the waves of the ocean are visible through the sheer dress and figure, pulsing across the body. A pair of running dogs—symbolic for Lorie of the instinctive, animal nature of desire—hovers in front of the dress. Specific experiences become universal, as neither the woman in the dress or the object of her desire is identified. Instead, a palpable yet abstract yearning fills the piece.

The passion and life within all of these works are simultaneously revealed and concealed by the veil placed over them. Like the body under the dress and the poppies behind the vase, the images suggest forces that cannot be defined or controlled by societal niceties. Yet the veil creates a boundary between the viewer and the interior structure of the work. With these pieces, the passions running below the surface can be seen and felt, but not touched.

Virginia Anderson holds a Ph.D. in Art History from Boston University. She is a Curator of American Art at Baltimore Museum of Art and a Faculty member at the Maryland Institute College of Art and John’s Hopkins University.

Veiled Longing, 2000 Mixed media, 64 x 44 inches.