Pat Lehman


Pat Lehman is a video artist and documentarian based in Colorado. Her landmark work with the Computer Image Corporation pioneered new forms of computer animation and image processing, innovating stunningly beautiful new modes of abstract image-making and inventing new blends of electronic manipulations of live-action footage.

Lehman’s background was in more traditional art-making – design and painting. But when she discovered video and computer imaging her trajectory changed. As she wrote, prophetically, in a 1983 artist’s statement:

Imagine an artist of the middle ages laboring away at mixing pigments for what was to become an oil painting – a painting which would take weeks, months, maybe years of intensive labor to complete. Such use of time and technology was appropriate for the times, but no longer. Once I became involved with the instantaneous results produced by painting with electrons on a CRT with computer-based real-time animation, the thoughts of making art with the tools invented five centuries ago boggled my mind. Oil painting is something I can never do again. Using the computer as a tool I have the potential for making not one but many thousands of paintings in minutes, all with the option of half a million color changes instantaneously! Could any artist ever find satisfaction after exploring the ultimate brain amplifier? For myself any other media is at best a poor second choice. Computer animation embraces both the creative and technical aspects of image making. The confluence of a new expressive media and communications technology has the opportunity to change the definition of art as we know it today.

– From the catalog for “New Tools: Machine and Image,” at the Boulder Center for the Visual Arts


Working as the Art Director for the Computer Image Corp. (CIC), Lehman collaborated with technicians and programmers on some of the earliest artworks created with a Scanimate Computer. Her 1972 video Drug Abuse was originally made to be a short public service announcement for local television, but its length (and, perhaps, its wild form) kept it from the airwaves. The video consists of a constantly mutating, shifting series of images, a psychedelic meditation on drugs and addiction that manages to be, in only 60 seconds, both outrageously beautiful and emotionally devastating. Drug Abuse played in the Director’s Fortnight section of the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, where it was among the first computer-generated works to play the festival in any capacity. 

1975’s Video Vitae is a longer piece, blending live-action footage with electronic abstractions to create “an impressionistic view of a woman in conflict.” With the video, Lehman further explores computer imaging’s capacity for depicting and exploring intense subjective experiences and extreme emotional states. Lehman virtuosically moves between different kinds of images, ranging from lightly manipulated footage to full abstraction, creating densely layered compositions that are always in flux. 

Lehman also worked in more fully abstract modes, using computers to invent entirely new patterns and forms. In 1979, she made several works exploring abstraction through gradual build-up and transformation, adding and altering compositions at the level of individual pixels. That work includes Pattern Permutations, Roving Rectangles, Color Fields, and Square Dance. A critic in the Los Angeles Times enthused about Square Dance: “the artist paints kinetic abstractions with electrons. The piece begins with a few colored squares, scattered about a plain field, and grows to larger scale arrangements of overlapping rectangles. Sequences of flickering movement and changing color are impeccably orchestrated as squares become building blocks in handsome compositions.” In 1981, Lehman made the stunning Fractal I and Fractal II, meditative, hypnotic works in which pixels slowly accumulate and resolve into patterns. 

In 1973, Lehman joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts-Boston, where she helped found the Film & Video department. While in Boston, Lehman turned to documentary, which would become an important part of her practice. She made the 1975 documentary Miss Eve at the prompting of a student who was friends with its subject, a local stripper who danced under the stage name “Miss Eve.” Eve talks with casual frankness and honesty about her job, candidly detailing its upsides as well as its difficulties. Lehman allows Eve to be thoughtful about a topic usually reserved for more sensational treatments, reflecting on everything from what makes a dancer appealing to the ways to earn the most money to the difficulties of romance while dancing to her professed ability to immediately identify a stripper immediately, in any situation, because of the confidence and assurance with which a dancer carries herself. 

While in Boston, Lehman received a grant to create a 10-part series of interview-based documentaries about “Women in the Arts.” For this series, Lehman profiled artists, administrators, and other figures within the Boston and Denver arts communities, including the Museum of Fine Arts’ Rebecca Lawrence, M.I.T. Press designer Muriel Cooper, Massachusetts Council for the Arts and Humanities Director Louise Tate, television producer Deborah Johnson, cinematographer Ann Kempt, anchorwoman Reynelda Muse, and professor Doris Dondis. 

Lehman’s 1977 documentary First Impressions might be an even more revelatory document. The video consists mostly of backstage interviews with performers at a Denver drag bar. As with Miss Eve, the interview subjects speak with a wholly informal, low-key openness about a job that is rarely treated with such unsensational honesty. They detail the extensive process of getting ready for a performance while musing about their lives, about romance, about their families, about gender and sexuality, about drag’s sometimes uneasy place within the gay community. It’s a lovely portrait of charming, thoughtful subjects. 

In 1992, Lehman moved to Boulder, where she has continued to work in video as both artist and teacher. 

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Our complete collection of Pat Lehman’s work can be found here. 


Dates: 1972-present

Selected Videography:

Drug Abuse

Video Vitae

Pattern Permutations / Homage to Albers / Roving Rectangles / Color Fields / Square Dance

Fractal I / Fractal II

Miss Eve

First Impressions

Women in the Arts: Muriel Cooper (raw footage)


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