MY THOUSAND SOUNDS
As through a long-abandoned half-standing house only someone lost could find,
which, with its paneless windows and sagging crossbeams, its hundred crevices in which a hundred creatures hoard and nest,
seems both ghost of the life that happened there and living spirit of this wasted place,
wind seeks and sings every wound in the wood that is open enough to receive it,
shatter me God into my thousand sounds
– Christian Wiman, “A Small Prayer in a Hard Wind“
In his newest paintings, Lee continues his ongoing fascination with painting as a form of private pilgrimage. For Lee, the process of painting can be perceived as a metonym for a type of spiritual voyage. His intention is that the viewer might perceive these paintings as personal votive objects linking the familiar terrains of memory, family, and loss, with that of a uncanny yet unseen sense of corporeal transcendence. In many ways the works function as relic-like objects that house much greater sublime ideas.
As he has explored in previous bodies of work, Lee touches upon themes of lamentation and grief, ideas of refuge and shelter, and the interconnectedness of family. But these paintings also wander through new modes of expression for the artist, namely how imagination can be a means to expand upon, and into, physical embodiments of yet-to-be-realized worlds. In many respects, Lee has become an emboldened fantasist, and these imagined scenarios are both more illustrious and more fantastical; the viewer is confronted by painting as altarpiece, mirror, or threshold between worlds or realities.
The very title of the exhibition suggests this sort of phenomenological nature, housing a type of levity and effervescence. In place of concretion or fulfilment, these paintings offer magical suggestions, at times presented via the artist’s playful layering of translucent and opaque colour. Further, Lee employs an eclectic group of images and symbols in these new paintings – vestments, a chrysalis, a family tree extending like an ever-expanding vine, a sort of ‘will-o-the-wisp’ type rapture.
In Cave Painting, a hermit-like figure sits before a giant easel painting, surrounded by a graveyard of canvases scattered around the mouth of a cave, the inner walls of which appear like an artist’s palette or a map. And as viewers, we are reminded that this is a fantasy of Lee’s creation – at the wim of our omniscient narrator. Similarly, we are reminded of literary journeys or pilgrimages: Paul’s Auster’s character, Julian Barber, in his 1989 novel Moon Palace; the lost and seemingly forsaken painter stuck in his desert cave, who undergoes a liberation of all artistic restraints by making paintings no one will ever see. Or, perhaps, the mysterious painter’s studio in Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore, a source of inspiration for Lee, wherein strange things happen: mysteries that hint at blurred or morphed realities. Lee aims to remind us that the artist’s pursuit is both solitary and manifold, both drudgingly isolated but also exalted and applauded with an almost religious-like reverie. It is a pursuit of opposites, of fulfilment and of reclusion.
In this sense Lee’s new paintings point toward an embodiment of the creative mind, both ever-expanding and consuming all at once. As with Auster and Murakami, these paintings seem to welcome the magic realism and the dreamlike sense of (mis)understanding that arises through the narrator’s (or in this case the painter’s) eyes.