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José Lerma MA’01, MFA’02

Lerma was born in Spain and grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He studied political science at Tulane University before coming to the University of Wisconsin to pursue a law degree. At the behest of a friend, Lerma was persuaded to take a painting course through the UW art department, led by assistant professor T.L. Solien, who, in Lermas opinion, is “one of the best contemporary painters in the country.”

March 01, 2008

2008 Forward under 40 Award Honoree

UW Major: Master's of Art, Master's of Fine Art
Age: 36 | Brooklyn, New York
Artist

José Lerma may just be the most accomplished artist to almost come out of Law School.

Lerma was born in Spain and grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He studied political science at Tulane University before coming to the University of Wisconsin to pursue a law degree. At the behest of a friend, Lerma was persuaded to take a painting course through the UW art department, led by assistant professor T.L. Solien, who, in Lermas opinion, is "one of the best contemporary painters in the country."

The impact of the course on Lerma was profound. The idea that he could pursue an interest that he cared so deeply about and also get paid to do it "proved too difficult to pass up." Just a few months shy of earning his law degree, Lerma abandoned his legal studies to pursue art.

Lerma studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before earning his MA and MFA from the UW in 2002. Soon after, he attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. In 2004, he was awarded a two-year residency in the Houston-based Glasell Museum of Fine Arts CORE Program.

Since graduating, Lerma has enjoyed monumental success in the art world, recently being chosen for representation by the Andrea Rosen Art Gallery of New York. He has enjoyed experiences working as a guest artist with several universities around the U.S. and has traveled internationally to exhibit his art in to name just a few countries Greece, Switzerland, France, Spain and Mexico.

In addition to his work, Lerma has enjoyed success as a professor as well, having taught at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Escuela de Artes Plasticas in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Lerma periodically finds himself back in Madison, most recently working as a visiting artist with the UW art departments Tandem Press studio, and credits the UW with "instilling in me a love for academia that remains to this day."

In his own words

When I started my education at UW-Madison, it was to pursue legal studies. During my second year of law school, upon the suggestion of a friend, I decided to take a painting course at the art department. I was fortunate to have had T.L. Solien, in my opinion, one of the best contemporary painters in the country, as the teacher. That class truly changed my life. The idea that I could do something I cared about this much for a living, proved too difficult to pass up. A very generous Advanced Opportunity Fellowship, allowed me to leave a potentially lucrative field for one that seemed, at the time, to offer few financial prospects. Ten years later I can say that I am very happy I took that step. Mostly, my years in Madison, where I was a T.A., instilled in me a love for academia that remains to this day. Since graduating Ive had the opportunity to be a visiting artist and work with graduate students at various universities including Rice University, New York University, the University of Iowa and the University of California-Santa Barbara. In addition, Ive been a professor at the Escuela de Artes Plasticas in San Juan, Puerto Rico and The Art Institute of Chicago. Most of my visits however (four in total), have been to Madison. The last one, just a few months ago, was an invitation to work with Tandem Press. My practice as an artist, which is often a solitary one, would not be the same without these rich and engaging interactions.

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