Lee Lozano
Drawings 1959-64
July 12–August 13, 2021

22 East 2nd Street
New York

Karma is pleased to present Lee Lozano: Drawings 1959–64, a solo exhibition of two hundred works on paper. The comprehensive survey inaugurates Karma’s 22 East 2nd Street location.

Lozano’s drawings register a social consciousness that was radical for its time and continues to be groundbreaking in the present day. Her transgressive and experimental illustrations dissect institutionalized power, behavioral propriety, and gender socialization with zealous intensity. Challenging norms of respectability, Lozano’s works are “anti-skill, antisocial, antithetical, a “manly,” macho display, figured in the touch and tone as much as in the innuendos and imagery,” as Tamar Garb aptly notes. 

The works on display span from early traditional studies made while enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago to the provocative iconography that emerged once she moved to New York. Early work from 1959 shows her experimenting with the formal elements of her classical education. Sequences of ghostly self portraits are introspective and sentimental. Lozano renders sunken eyes and folded hands using delicate parallel hatch marks, evoking Renaissance masters such as Albrecht Dürer and Raphael. Cavernous faces gradually hollow out into hastily inked skulls and macabre anatomical studies. 

After relocating to New York in late 1960, her works become aggressive and mercurial. Urgent crayon sketches—which she referred to as ‘comix’—meld together traffic lights, mechanical devices, electrical systems, and human parts, blurring the division between machine and body. Around 1962, Lozano begins to incorporate airplane imagery. The planes fly into bodily orifices and bob alongside dollar bills, with male sexual organs dangling from their undercarriages. Iris Müller-Westermann proposes that these forms act as “metaphors for a kind of thought energy—for ideas circulating, being heard and taken in, processed, produced, and sent out again. One could regard these airplane pictures as investigations of the raw material necessary for every sort of creative activity.” 

In 1963, Lozano’s visual vocabulary settles on absurd humor, introducing overtly sexual iconography. Through pictorial puns and wordplay, anthropoid illustrations of masculine and feminine-charged tools and objects examine gender conventions by engaging in what Molesworth calls a “a veritable porno of protrusions and holes, screaming with the electric energy of screwing, boring, plugging, and drilling.” In drawings more humorous than lecherous, Lozano severs phallic representations from their historic associations with potency and eroticism. She recuperates imagery often thought of as undignified and indelicate. The phrases “man cocking his ear” and “man with cocked head” are juxtaposed with graphic, literal interpretations of those words, and the caption “BLOW!” is scrawled next to a cartoonish character whose nose and phallus have exchanged places.

Quick, barely-modeled pencil sketches show plugs sliding into sockets and an oversized wrench protruding out of the unzippered fly of a pair of blue jeans. A virile hammer gyrates on a nail alongside the text “ride ride,” playing off the idiomatic implication of a ‘tool.’ A hand grasps a crucifix, the top end of the symbol resembling a phallus—a recurring motif that conflates pious fervor and lust.  More deliberately shaded and modeled than their ‘comix’ counterparts, later drawings of screwdrivers, scissors, and pipe clamps would serve as studies for her 1964 Tool paintings. 

Aggressive and rebellious, Lozano’s works from this period explore the way structural elements link and interlace, appropriating a masculine vigor to escape socialized gender restrictions. Her pioneering works do not stand at a remove from their subjects; their themes of body politics are intimate and relevant to her lived experience. Blurring the personal and the public, Lozano was, as Lucy Lippard notes, “extraordinarily intense, one of the first, if not the first person…who did the life-as-art thing.” Though relatively unknown during her lifetime, this early body of work has been retroactively lauded as instrumental to understanding the trajectory of Lozano’s practice.

The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive monograph of over 500 works created between 1958 and 1964. The publication includes newly commissioned essays by Helen Molesworth and Tamar Garb. 

Special thanks to Barry Rosen, Jaap van Liere, and Hauser & Wirth for their collaboration on this exhibition and publication.