I started out and studied to be a portrait painter. My experiences during WW II as a one person USO show sketching portraits of over three thousand patients in military hospitals somehow satisfied or cooled that desire.
Teaching studio courses at Howard University was a varied experience and I encountered printmaking there. Some how I became fascinated with cutting forms and printmaking and then fell in love with line. Line has been my destination with almost all of my work since then.
Some years ago a reviewer noted that it "is obvious that Ms Asher is most interested in human relations." I was unaware of this direction at the time but he was certainly correct. Many of my subjects have been mothers and children, lovers, children themselves and some times Greek myths and bible stories and I am still working in those areas.
- Lila Oliver Asher
Lila Asher and the Virtue of Simplicity
Perhaps the greatest challenge any artist faces occurs not at the start of a work, when motives are not clear or they are but the means to achieving them remain unclear, but rather at the close of the artwork, when the artist, having grasped all of the image’s elements, is looking for closure. Knowing when to stop working is very difficult, especially if we understand the work of an artist as a recursive process in which desire and technique are constantly revised by one another. Overwork the image and it is ruined; underwork it and it remains incomplete.
I am my beloved
Watercolor 17 x 24"
linocut, 18 1/2" diameter
Lila Asher’s work shows none of these faults. Whether she is drawing, painting, or printing, Asher seems almost always to find exactly the right balance between giving us too much and providing too little. Most especially in images such as Mother and Child, I Am My Beloved, Scotland, and Persephone, Asher makes a virtue of simplicity. The images communicate their subjects and themes clearly and fully and without any distortion. Clarity of this sort is incredibly difficult to achieve, and yet, in her best works, Asher seems to accomplish it with ease.
Mother and Child
linocutTake Mother and Child, for example. In this image, Asher’s use of balance, color, and line is superb. There are two heads, two arms, two eyes, two ears, two noses, one each belonging to the mother and child. These are perfectly balanced and enfolded by color and gesture into a kind of unity that beautifully expresses the relationship between mother and child. The use of color is important, too. Mother and child are of the same color, while Mother’s garment is associated with the external world of which she—but not the child—Is already a part. In this regard, Asher’s use of color both speaks to the deep connection between Mother and child and initiates an allegory for the life they will share. Both of these ideas are reinforced by the line of Mother’s eyebrow, which is weighted at the middle to suggest two kinds of emotion. The first is her deep connection with the child, while the second is her understanding of their relationship in the context of a sometimes all consuming world. The first emotion is made more powerful by the awareness of the second, and this feat is perhaps the image’s greatest triumph.
Most of us are probably not use to works of such clarity. We are use to complexity and confuse it with accomplishment. Simplicity is its own accomplishment—for the way it respects its subjects and for the way it speaks to us. Looking at Asher’s works, we feel something stir deep down inside of us, something almost lost to weariness and suspicion, but which comes readily alive. It is the first act of our restoration.
John A Haslem, Jr. PhD
Lila Oliver Asher was born in Philadelphia, Pa. She studied there with Joseph Grossman, Frank B.A. Linton and at the Fleischer Memorial Art School. She was also a pupil of Prof. Gonippo Raggi and held a four year scholarship to the now University of the Arts. She moved to Washington D.C. in 1946 and established a studio for painting, sculpture and prints. She taught art at the college level from 1947, as instructor in the Art Department of Howard University 1947-51, at Wilson Teachers College 1953-54, returning to Howard University in 1961, promoted to Assistant Professor in 1964, to Associate Professor in 1966, and to full Professor in 1971. Since 1991 she has been Professor Emerita and continues to work in her studio.
born 1921 Philadelphia, PAeducation
public collections1943 University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Corcoran Museum of Art, Washington DCFisk University, Nashville, TNGeorgetown University, Washington, DCHoward University Gallery of Art, Washington DCJundt Museum, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WAKastrupgårdamlingen Kunst Museum, Copenhagen, DenmarkMuseum of American Art, Washington, DCNational Museum of History, Taipei, TaiwanNational Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DCSweet Briar College, VAUniversity of Virginia, Charlottesville
The Washington Post
In the Galleries, April 2016
By Mark Jenkins
Lila Oliver Asher
Veteran local printmaker Lila Oliver Asher has a classic style, which suits her often-classical subjects. Her show at Iona Senior Services, where she's artist in residence, includes scenes from Greek myths and the Old Testament. These are rendered in blocks of somber color and with clean lines, often reversed into black and occasionally accented by red: for fire, say, or an Edenic apple. Other favored subjects include lovers, children and the arts. lovers, children and the arts.
Born in 1921, Asher taught at local colleges (mostly Howard University) from 1947 to 1991. Her areas of expertise include drawing and watercolor, both of which are included in this selection. But she remains best known for her linoleum-cut prints, a form whose technical limitations don't fetter her at all. The memorable images in this show range from everyday scenes to gently erotic reveries to moments of great literary drama.
Asher knows how to frame a composition for maximum impact, and she sometimes twists conventions. "Airport Mother and Child," for example, turns a traditionally serene subject into a frantic one. Most often, though, she makes a virtue of directness. Her art's power comes not from the unexpected, but from presenting familiar themes with exceptional craft and grace.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY
Benjamin Forgey, "The Washington Star," ... the hallmark of her art, from 1949 to present, is an extreme clarity of idea and style. Asher has the consummate illustrator's gift for seizing the proper moment, gesture and form with which to depict a particular theme or idea. Her medium in print has been the linoleum cut, which perfectly suits her consistent use of clear-cut forms in strong blacks and whites, and her incisive, graceful, stylized way of drawing. Her themes over the years have been amazingly consistent, mother-and-child, couples, figures symbolizing timeless human situations, music, biblical stories. The pleasure in the show is to see the gradually increasing mastery with which she approaches her chosen visual vocabulary; a modest triumph, but a real one.. . . .Asher's work over the years is all of a piece, a consistent sensitivity, ability and style applied to accepted universal themes... Her figures from the earliest to the latest are defined by rhythmical contour, and there's scarcely a mistake in the show. In the later prints, an adult and child dancing Ring-around-a-Rosey or a female nude reclining on a bed, an unassuming virtuosity can be felt; the foreshortening is dramatic and correct, and yet none of the feel of classical repose is lost.
Paul Richard, "The Washington Post," Lila Oliver Asher's prints are the finest when most simple, strongest when gentle, "Prints from Life" is the title of her retrospective at Howard University, where she began to teach art 30 years ago. Asher, like Matisse, is able to suggest the weight and warmth of flesh without recourse to shading, with a single line. Her nudes, embracing lovers, and mothers stroking babies are affective because finely drawn and wholly unpretentious ... Something peaceful, quiet, a mood of graceful kindness rises from this show. © All rights reserved Lila Asher to order: c200 p.p. paper $ 23.00 #A2045 Willow Bend Books, a division of Heritage Books Inc. Leslie Wolfinger, Publishing Director 65 East Main Street Westminster, MD 21157-5026 Email:orders@HeritageBooks.com
Harold Horowitz. "The Washington Print Club Quarterly," What seems most wonderful about these works is the quality of lines. They may be incised in the uncut areas of the blocks or they may be the outlines of the shapes themselves. In either case, the linear elements of the designs are very powerful and are able to both define the forms and suggest the three dimensional properties as well. We take such talent in handling linear elements for granted when we look at prints by master draftsman Picasso. Lila Oliver Asher also has this rare ability.
Jo Ann Lewis "The Washington Post," ... black and white prints of mothers and children, lovers, musicians and single figures that predominate. The best of these are rendered with a single graceful arabesque, or series of arabesques, that somehow convey roundness-as well as the tenderness of an embrace, a gesture or touch-with out the use of shading or perspective. Made by cutting the image into heavy linoleum and then inking and printing it, the resulting white lines on black (or the reverse) perfectly suit her lyrical, linear style. Most often she uses line exclusively to describe her images, though occasionally she has printed with blocks of raw wood, using the raised grain for the background.
Frank Getlein, Author and Arts Critic, In her work she has embodied clearly, at times brilliantly, one of the fundamentals of all visual art during a time when fundamentals were fading fast. Lila Asher has stood for line. When her artistic ancestor, J.A.D. Ingres, said that drawing is the probity of art, he was talking about line, as is evident in a glance at any of his work. Like him, Asher has built her entire career in art upon the firm foundation of line. We are all the beneficiaries of that early decision - if even it was a conscious decision - on her part. Our eye follows her line and hears its music, even cues us to join the chorus. Her line sings sweetly, stands strongly, builds like an architect, makes shadow and texture like a weaver, shapes life, like the creator she is. Her message to us is as multi-farious as life itself, which she celebrates in every stroke.
"Art News", Lila Oliver Asher's prints illustrate mythology, the Bible, women with children, saints, lovers, etc., done in black and white with linear elements in white. Touches of orange, brown, red act as nice accents.
David C. Driskell, Professor of Art, Univ. of Maryland, The human figure has always been Asher's principal subject. She works with it with love and passion and endows each form with a realistic aesthetic that is bound in the classical antecedents from which traditional art sprang. While many creative people of Asher's generation have moved their artistry stylistically over the changing roads of modernism via abstract expressionism, pop, conceptual and other contemporary forms of making, she has remained a constant devotee to figuration and the narrative tradition. One of the most revealing aspects of Asher's artistry is the ease with which she moves with confidence from one medium to another without losing the keen sensibility of line and formal content that have always been present in her work.
"Pictures on Exhibit," Her simple uncluttered handling of subject, design, and mass, with flowing lines happily represent an artist with knowledge, good taste and flair.
"The Villager", N.Y.C., Her line is sharp. It has authority; it has beautiful movement also. Many of her subjects are biblical; "Expulsion of Hagar," "Joseph and His Brethren," "Jacob and Esau," "Prodigal Son." She is expert in figure groups. One of the loveliest in the show is 'Mother and Child" creamy white on soft blue. Her use of color in her prints is exceptionally imaginative.
Dorothy Hall, "Park East," N.Y.C., There are several mother and child prints with the simplicity and charm of line drawings, an excellent wood cut of A little "Boy with a Guitar," and a perfectly delightful study of two small boys playing follow the leader on a narrow ledge ... All of them attest not only to the artist's proficiency in draftsmanship but also to her great warmth and sensitivity."France-Amerique," N.Y.C., La Bible, La mythologie, la nature sensuelle de l'homme, les richesses sculpturales et charnelles de l'individu inspirent les belles gravures des Lila Oliver Asher, qui se sert de ce medium avec une rare elegance et sens infallible du rhythm. Beaucoup d'entre elles sont dans le gout et dans la maniere japonaise - les Japonais, ces maitres de la gravure sur bois - et les deux enfants, en noir et blanc lisant des journaux eparpilles a terre me parait resumer dans son equilibre, sa composition inhabituelle, son sens humoristique de se que vit, de ce qui bouge, l'epitome de son authentique talent.
Prentiss Taylor, professional lecturer, American Univ., In a time in which oblique and obscured statements have been the language of artists, Lila Oliver Asher has brought her concepts to a remarkable poise and lucidity. She has given visual substance to the profound forces of life, the unchangingly significant instances from mythology and the Bible, and the equally unchanging instances of warmth, affection and play from the intimate life of the family.
"Times of India" Bombay, On view at the American Cultural Center is a generous selection of prints by Lila Asher. They possess a deceptive simplicity, maybe because of the spare quality of the figurative arrangement. These prints actually possess an abundant humanity and imaginative visualization. The themes include human nudity in various forms (and one may say moods); expressions of love; Greek myths, and biblical episodes. The nudes are lovingly rendered. But mere love would not have served without a highly skilled draughtsmanship. Among the notable graphics here are Mother and Child (appealing despite the familiarity of the theme); Joseph and His Brethren (a simple but dramatic group arrangement) ; Eve, (the color of the apple core lending a lone but meaningful contrast to the black female nude) and Narcissus (showing an expert use of filled in areas).
John Shapley, Professor of Art, Geo. Washington Univ., She has both seen and imagined, and she has had the skill to record the results for our profit and pleasure. Stimulation from the subject matter of these prints must not take precedence over the appreciation of their design. In the language of design Mrs. Asher emphasizes line. Note the firmness in "Afternoon," and its litheness as it emphasizes the charming youthful poses of "Young Girls."
Robert Taylor, "The Boston Globe," Boston, Mass. Critic's tip, The exhibition of some 60 relief linoleum and wood block prints as well as silkscreen images ... she celebrates the joys of everyday living, the uniqueness of the "ordinary. "
© All rights reserved, 2004 Lila Asher
Men I have met in Bed, Lila Asher, Willow Bend Books (a Division of Heritage Books Inc). Leslie Wolfinger Publisher, Westminister, MD, orders@HeritageBooks.com
Lila Oliver Asher is a good listener, and she has spent a lot of time with men in bed - hospital beds. This is a tale of the hospitalized servicemen of WW II that the author met while touring with the USO's newly-formed volunteer Hospital Sketching Program (1943-1946).