Eli’s Portrait by Riva Lehrer

Portrait of Eli by Riva Lehrer

The banner on this website comes from a painting of Eli by Riva Lehrer. It is part of a project called "Circle Stories," a series of portraits of disabled artists, academics, and activists whose work explores body issues.

You're welcome to use this portrait in publicity related to Eli's work. If you do so, credit Riva Lehrer for the painting. For a high resolution copy of the portrait, go to this page. If you'd like a poster of the portrait, Riva sells good reproductions of the painting in three sizes at Cafe Press.

Of her work, Riva writes:

The body is the first story; our text of
first meeting. I see you, you see me,
skin, bone, eyes, hair: assumptions
pour forth like a rip in a dam. See the
thousand imprints of sex, nation,
money, clues to the familiar and exotic.
We read and decide in eyeblink time.
When bone and blood show an
unfamiliar shape, the judgments freeze
into a first, rigid wall between you and I.

So paint the story of surface and bone
explicit, unavoidable, and ask

what did you fear then

and what do you think now.
Of the process of working with Riva, Eli has written:

When painter Riva Lehrer knocked at my door, asking if she could paint me, I wanted to laugh. I adored looking at Riva’s “Circle Story” paintings, but I couldn’t even imagine a portrait of me. In her studio, Bill dances in black and white, twisting around one aluminum crutch. Painter Hollis Sigler, who struggled long with breast cancer, looks tough, weathered, the Persephone story in full color behind her. Brian reads nude, wearing his prosthesis, cats curled against him, leaping over him. A white woman, half-painted, emerges from the panel, her hands already alive. I couldn’t stop looking. And so I said yes to Riva.

That “yes” resulted in this painting, me embracing, wrestling with a tree, taking it into me and at the same time giving something of myself back. There’s a lot I could say about this image, the process of its creation, how I was able to bring my whole self to this project, the ways Riva saw beauty, painted beauty, but I want the image, not my words, to do the work. Riva said more than once softly, almost to herself as she painted, focusing on the curve of jaw or line of forearm, “This is beautiful.” Said it wanting nothing from me.

I’ve known hostile stares, curious gawking, impetuous glances that demanded I explain this body of mine. Doctors have peered at me, scrutinized how I walk. Strangers have asked me to declare my gender, sometimes disbelieving whatever I answer. My white skin goes unnoticed, at least among other white people. And here I was with a painter who, laying paint on panel, was calling me beautiful. Nothing had ever prepared me for this way of seeing myself, my body. The painting itself overwhelms me, surrounds me, encourages me to fill my skin to its very edges.