Artist Debra Lott has spent much of her time as an artist painting and drawing portraits of women using an Expressionist-tinged style to convey emotion and meaning. Her current offering, “#MeToo: From Silent to Resilient,” opens at PYRO Gallery on Friday, Sept. 7, and she’s joined by the sculptor Meg White and the painter Rachel Gibbs.
Lott is a south Florida native but has made Louisville her home and is a longtime member of PYRO Gallery, where she’s been a part of six major exhibitions.
Her first focus as a painter was nature. But her mentor, the seminal EC Comics illustrator Graham Ingels, persuaded her to shift her perspective.
“I was only interested in trees — I lived in south Florida, painting the ocean, all of that. And Graham really persuaded me to start learning portraiture,” she tells Insider.
Ingels was primarily known as a comic book artist. His early work at EC Comics featured lurid victims and monsters in horror stories.
He was part of the generation of comic creators targeted in Fredric Wertham’s now-discredited “Seduction of the Innocent,” which charged such comics for corrupting America’s youth.
But Ingels’ true skill was creating figures who could bring out real emotions in his viewers — a skill, it seems, he passed on to protégés like Lott, who switched to portraiture and painting the human figure after spending time with Ingels.
“I’m the type of artist who needs to have meaning in my work,” says Lott. “So a person is a lot more meaningful to me, and that’s how I express meaning in my life — through the figure.”
Her “#MeToo” paintings seek to express the moment in the life of a survivor of assault when she begins to break free from sadness and depression brought on by the experience.
To do this, Lott presents her figures tied with ribbon and thread. Finding that metaphor for emotional turmoil was an organic process that flowed naturally from her practice.
“I have a very curvilinear brush stroke, and as an artist, I’m always interested in images all around me. And I came across some images that had different types of netting or bondage,” explains Lott. “It occurred to me that would work as a form to show bondage … so I’ve used strings and ribbons. It flows with my style, that curvilinear flowing style.”
Some of that bondage and sexism skirts much closer to reality. In one painting, three women sit with their feet tied and entwined, a reference to foot binding, a form of oppression Chinese women faced from the Song dynasty until early in the 20th century.
Lott’s paintings are portraits in the literal sense — she works with models to create her images. For this exhibit, she began by reaching out to women at the Family Scholar House, a local nonprofit she has worked with in the past.
Its focus is on education for the less-privileged, a population that includes many women who have suffered some form of abuse.
“I had two of these models volunteer specifically for the ‘#MeToo’ (project),” she says. “They had gone through things like this in their life, and they wanted to be representative in this way.”
Lott’s paintings in this show are just one example of the kind of inspirational work she tries to create, inspiration that has — in the past — had an observable effect.
“With a grant from Kentucky Foundation for Women, I did a series on elderly women,” says Lott.
She worked with women in a nursing home, asking them to get dressed and have their picture taken and turned into an oversized portrait.
Depression can be a problem in nursing homes. Disinterest in getting out of bed and getting dressed is a frequent sign of depression in people of all ages.
“One lady was 99 years old, and she was able to come to the show and see it. It was a cool moment,” says Lott. “But what made it even more meaningful for me is that the ladies in the nursing home who took care of these women said that after I photographed them, these women started dressing up every day.”
The effects of her ‘#MeToo’ paintings might not be as obvious to an outside observer, but she hopes they might help survivors.
“The show also is for healing,” says Lott. “Women who have suffered abuse and sexual harassment, I hope in some way, it will help them work through what they need to work through.”
“#MeToo: From Silent to Resilient” hangs at PYRO Gallery from Sept. 6 through Oct. 20. There are two receptions for the exhibit — Friday, Sept. 7, from 6-9 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 9, from 1-4 p.m. Regular hours are Thursday, Friday and Saturday from noon-6 p.m.
PYRO is located at 1006 E. Washington St.