Leah Durner


“Extravagant Painting and Radical Generosity”

Wednesday, Feb 7, 2024
2:30 PM
Elvehjem L150

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Passcode: 456662


“Extravagance, Liveliness, Livelihood: Intertwining Body, Materials, and Action: A Conversation with Jorella Andrews”*

Friday, February 9, 2024
University Club Room 212


Extravagant Painting and Radical Generosity

Description of lecture: 

Extravagance is a term artist Leah Durner uses for a constellation of concerns—including radical generosity, largesse, superfluity, flesh, materiality, painting, abundance, richness, wandering, and wild being—that are of central theoretical interest to her practice These concerns continue to grow and expand fed by many sources, among the most fundamental:  phenomenology, with which Durner has been engaged alongside her interest in painterly painters since the mid-1990s. Durner’s engagement with largesse was sparked by Jean Starobinski’s essay for Largesse, the small exhibition he curated for the Department of Graphic Arts at the Louvre in 1994 in which he demonstrated the gift as the most fundamental of gestures. Durner is also influenced by George Bataille’s The Accursed Share—with his discussion of the restricted economy based on scarcity and the general economy based on superabundance. These ideas are important to Durner because poverty and austerity are matters of life and death—not simply for the basic survival of human beings but for our thriving. Extravagance, as Durner develops it, is both a way to lave the wounds caused by a solely or primarily utilitarian approach to life and an entirely other realm of being.

Durner’s presentation will cover her oeuvre from 1983 – present. Durner will address how she has met with and continues to meet with transformations in theoretical approaches to painting across the lived history of this important 35+ year period which encompasses anti-painting and postmodernism to the more recent revival of painting within a new, expanded context. As an artist deeply engaged with art history Durner will also discuss earlier historic works that influence her, including the Italians, Flemish, and Spaniards of the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as the Baroque and Rococo painters of the 18th century.

While Durner’s primary practice is in large-scale abstract painting, her practice also includes works on paper, political work, collages, fashion and design collaborations, fashion drawings, and interventions/détournement on found ephemera. Therefore, her presentation will include discussions of her interest in design – fashion, objects, interiors; as well as collage, ephemera, drawing, writing, and politics.


Workshops Abstract:

Is there a way to invent a new way of life and a word that identifies human action and effort as joyful?
Andrews and Durner will discuss possibilities for opening up new ideas and paradigms for livelihood and liveliness, for the fully provisioning all human beings and caring for, preserving,and restoring what we call the environment. The workshop aims to examine “work’ and to imagine new structures for human action and provisioning – to transform what we have been calling “work,’ for millennia.

Since “work” has been based on concepts of suffering, difficulty, and human value for millennia, how can we ask new questions now?

 One possibility is to envision a new word/concept to emerge during the course of the workshop is that will replace “work,” and its various alternates including “labor,” “toil,”“travail,” – all of which have roots in ideas of suffering, torment and constriction – with a new, open, loving, and kind concept that includes human action, agency, and joy.

The workshop will also be informed by Painting, Largesse, and Life: A Conversation with Leah Durner, a wide-ranging, illustrated conversation Andrews and Durner on Durner’s oeuvre from 1983-2018 and its relation to practices and histories of painting in the context of Durner’s involvement with phenomenology.



Leah Durner is an artist and writer living in New York. Durner’s painting is based in psychedelia and process art with deeper roots in the exuberance of the Baroque and Rococo. Durner pulls her color from the fashion and design worlds as well as from graffitied trucks, construction sites, street signs,  and all the richness that occurs around her in her New York City home. As Durner says, “It’s like I take the world I see around me, melt it down, and then pour it out as painting. It is not the world abstracted, but the world reconstituted as paint.” Culture writer and artist David Colman has noted that Durner’s work “combines realms that have different social valences” from high fashion, design, and streetscapes to philosophy, literature politics and architecture. Durner has had solo exhibitions of her work at Loretta Howard Gallery, 571 Projects, Nye Basham Studio, Wooster Arts Space, Berry College, and Limbo. Durner’s work is in the collections of the San Antonio Museum of Art, Portland Museum of Art (Maine) and Wake Forest University Art Collections. In addition to her work as an artist, Durner has curated exhibitions, published art theory, and lectured and written on a number of topics.Extravaganceis Durner’s ongoing artistic and theoretical project that encompasses radical generosity and openness across disciplines. Critics and scholars who have written on Durner’s work include: Jorella Andrews (Department of Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths, University of London; David Cohen (critic and artcritical.compublisher); Michael Sanders (philosopher), and John Yau (poet and critic).

In 2018 Bloomsbury Press published The Question of Painting: Rethinking Thought with Merleau-Ponty by Jorella Andrews in which Durner’s work is discussed along with that with other historic and contemporary artists in relation to contemporary painting. Durner’s painting, Rousseau (2006), is the book’s cover image. Painting, Largesse, and Life: A Conversation with Leah Durner, an intensive conversation between Andrews and Durner on her oeuvre from the period 1983-2018 and its relation to practices and histories of painting and Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, envisioned as a companion to Dr. Andrews’ The Question of Painting, is in proof state and forthcoming. Durner is lead co-chair, with Jorella Andrews as co-chair, of the panel fashion: tissue, textile, toile at the College Art Association 112th Annual Conference in Chicago on February 17, 2024. Durner received her B.A. from Wake Forest University and her M.F.A. from Rutgers University where she studied painting with Leon Golub, performance with Geoffrey Hendricks, and art theory with Martha Rosler. Durner also studied with Gary Kuehn, Bob Watts, Joan Semmel, and Hal Foster.