Every month Harold Lohner flips through the new issue of Art Calendar, a magazine that provides copious listings of exhibitions and other opportunities for artists. He regularly finds calls for submissions to shows of female artists and occasionally of gay artists. “I’m gay and an artist, but I don’t want to be a practitioner of gay art. It’s like you don’t have to be very good,” says Lohner, 48, who has been in a committed relationship for 10 years. Even in the gay community, gay art is a vague term that can encompass any art focusing on the male form or any art created by a gay man.
Like most artists, who almost by definition are individualists, Lohner sometimes wonders where he and his work fit in. A printmaker who’s been on the faculty of the Sage Colleges for 25 years, Lohner creates works on paper that focus almost exclusively on the male form.
“There’s lot of women who make art only about women. It’s a way of studying yourself,” says Lohner. “The prints are about men and me.”
A wide array of recent monoprints by Lohner is on view at Albany Center Galleries in the exhibition, “Translations Lost and Found.”
Most of his works depict faces, though “Atlas,” one of four artist books included in the show, features reclining bodies in the greens and blues of a map. And in the series of prints titled “Column 1″ and “Column 2″ there’s a tangle of male body parts.
Lohner views his current work as speaking of and to men, both gay and straight. “Sometimes men think what is interesting to them is interesting to everyone,” he says. “But men have (their own) body issues and health issues … overlapping issues and affinities.”
There are piles upon piles of men’s faces in Lohner’s “Gate,” a collage of 105 monoprints attached to a wall in an arched shape that suggests a passage or doorway. Most of them have open mouths, suggesting speech or laughter or perhaps even pain. In contrast, the dozen faces in “Coins,” a horizontal succession of circular prints, are more restrained, closemouthed and solemn. Ask Lohner the identity of any individual figure and he’ll give you the same response.
“It’s a portrait of Joe Blow, that’s who it is,” he says. “They’re not real people … just drawings.”
Seldom do the figures have clothing or eyeglasses, because that would suggest a particular time or place. And while many of the faces appear to have African features, Lohner pleads ignorance of their heritage. “It’s more about angle, gestures, shadow, texture, than age or race,” he says. “I want my pieces to be timeless.”
Nevertheless, Lohner doesn’t pull the faces out of the ether. A self-described “pack rat,” he collects reams of photographs from magazines and Web sites and uses them as guides to suggest the anonymous faces that populate his art. Working directly on the plate of a printing press, he draws with his finger in a sock.
“I begin with a putty knife, then a comb, then draw by hand, creating streaks that look like brush strokes,” says Lohner. “(Photographs) are just to have a place to start.”
“In scraping ink off of the plate, Harold makes a really bold mark. … He’s free-handing, not taking a rest, not using a guide, which is unusual,” says Ed Atkeson, an artist and friend, who put on a show of Lohner’s work in 2003 at the now-shuttered Firlefanz Gallery in Albany.
Occasionally, Lohner also lays objects onto the printing plate, thus leaving their impressions on the paper. For example, tools of the carpenter – rulers and T-squares – show up in a series of six prints called “Builders” that are also part of the current exhibit. Confetti, cassette tape and textured linoleum have been used in other pieces.
“It’s a kind of magic you don’t get if you’re not walking out onto the limb,” says Atkeson.
While the daring and experimentation of Lohner’s prints are mostly in the process of creation, there’s an obvious whimsy and playfulness in his other body of work – typefaces.
About eight years ago, Lohner began constructing original fonts, a painstakingly detailed computerized process. Today he has an inventory of several hundred original typefaces that are available at the Web site Harold’s Fonts. They include “Melody Maker,” “Rice Cakes,” “Queer Theory,” “Bride of the Monster” and “Rubaiyat,” to name a few.
“I make more money on fonts than I ever did on art,” says Lohner. “My art is so important, it’s like I squeeze it out of my soul, but strangers send me money for these fonts. It’s like I do crossword puzzles and make money from it.”
In the late 1990s, Lohner took almost four years off from creating and exhibiting art. The Firlefanz show in the spring of 2004 was his first in five years. The self-imposed exile was the result of an accumulation of frustrations with the art scene that will be familiar to most any artist in search of an audience.
“I thought avoiding the (hassles) of trying to get people to pay attention would be good, but not doing the work was depressing,” recalls Lohner. “It made me realize I really do the work for myself. Even if I put it all away. I need to do it.”
Lohner creates in the printmaking studio at the Sage College of Albany where he also teaches. And he likes to spread out, saying, “I’m such a hog, I use every table in the room.” Thus, he works hardest during the school’s winter and spring breaks and the summer vacation, when he can have the entire space to himself. Calling the intensive periods his “retreats,” he says he emerges from them renewed.
“I have a friend who runs marathons. He has no hope of ever winning … but he enjoys it and seems to need to do it,” Lohner says. “It’s the same thing with me and my art – there it is, if someone wants to see it.”
This originally appeared in the Times Union, December 3, 2006.
Also available in Artists & Activists: Making Culture in New York’s Capital Region.