Frédéric Lère has lived and worked in Hell’s Kitchen and the Garment District in Manhattan for many years. His neighborhood, which includes Hudson Yards and the Vessel, has become an endless painting ground.
As a painter, he always enjoys making live sketches of his neighborhood, some of which are later developed in the studio as oil paintings. In a fast changing environment, he documents some of the neighborhood landmarks, including Lincoln Tunnel, the New York Times building, or Port Authority Bus Terminal. There is always a lot to capture: interesting buildings, street scenes, and temporary or permanent art installations such as Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War on Times Square, the new Big Button in the Garment District, or Nick Cave’s Soundsuits on subway stations mosaics.
In 2016, Lère opened another painting studio in France, close to the birthplace of French 16th Century poet, Pierre de Ronsard. The forced isolation during the pandemic provided Lère with the opportunity to focus on a long-term project. 2024 will mark the 500th anniversary of the entrance of Giovanni da Verrazzano in the Bay of New York. It is also in 1524 that Ronsard was born. Intrigued by the coincidence, Lère started investigating the extent to which Ronsard was aware of the Americas. That took him down a rabbit hole of endless research… and the discovery that 16th century issues are very similar to the ones we face now, as shown in Ronsard: 1524, a route to the Americas.
Thanks to an initiative from the Communauté d’agglomérations Territoires Vendômois. a selection of the project’s paintings was on view in two separate series during the summers of 2022 and 2023, at the poet’s birthplace, Manoir de la Possonnière in Loir et Cher, France. A number of exhibitions of the work are also scheduled for 2024.
This exploration of the past follows in the tracks of another extensive project conducted in 2019, De Salomon à Soliman, a commission of over 50 watercolors by the Musée du Protestantisme in Ferrières, Tarn, France. The watercolor series is on display at the Musée in Ferrières, from July to December 2023.
In Manhattan’s fast changing environment, Lère documents the action taking place on his neighborhood landmarks. As the Port Authority Bus Terminal may soon be revamped, he decided to celebrate the current building, reimagining it as a Roman bath in the style of the old Penn Station. Inspired by George Bellows documenting the Penn Station excavations over a century ago, he added some of the kids Bellows portrayed in other paintings.
At the end of December 2022, some of his Manhattan paintings were shown on over 1,900 LinkNYC digital kiosks across the five boroughs of New York City, as part of the Art On Link program, an initiative developed by the City of New York.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Lère explored the impact of the pandemic on his neighborhood, and on himself. Between “sheltering in place” and quarantine periods, his indoors voyages led to a From My Window series of oils and watercolors, as well as a number of COVID Portraits, including a self-portrait. Together, these works span a two-year period and paint an evolving narrative of solitude and urban resilience: a portrait of New York City in its new normal.
In early 2020, Lère started working with photographer Olivier Dupont Delestraint on a joint project devoted to the issue of migration. Both shared a major concern over the tragic plight of uprooted populations, facing tall walls and closed borders. When the pandemic was declared, they realized the ever-expanding leisure and business travel had facilitated the worldwide spread of viruses, which hitch-hiked a ride from voyagers across borders. Lère chose the 18th century Toile de Jouy technique, with its infinite repetition of motifs to illustrate the issue of migration and massive population flows.