What is the work of a painter today? In Austin Lee’s new series of work, ‘Pretty Pictures’ the figure of a painter appears in a work entitled ‘Joy’. He is working on a canvas with a model standing to the left of the picture. The artist is short, serious and wears a floppy hat. His model is tall, goofy and towers over both artist and canvas. In ‘Big Stick’ the artist reappears, his figure filling the flattened picture plane, staring back at the viewer and offering up a loaded paintbrush. The paintbrush is comically threatening. The hat, by the way, can now be clearly identified as a beret.
The appearance of this deliberately clichéd image of a painter is, at first, surprising. Lee’s method of working involves making rapid portraits on an iPad and then translating these images onto canvases. His works combine cartoonish elements with sharp lines, deliberately out of focus areas and brightly colored flat planes of background color. They look as if they have been made by a finger swiping across a screen, a way of working that is hinted at in
‘Windows’, a painting where a hand holds a pencil to the screen of a laptop. It is a method seemingly far removed from the beret-wearing painter.
And yet, perhaps the point that Lee is making is that reality has not changed dramatically – but our way of being able to encounter it and make art in relation to it, has. Elsewhere in the exhibition, there are paintings of subjects that are associated with a very conventional history of painting, such as flowers, plants and animals. The subjects that Lee addresses are the landscapes and still life that painters through the history of art have addressed. But the way they can be addressed is now radically different, mediated through computers and the
We are bound by a way of viewing the world that at some point in recent years decisively shifted so that we largely experience the world mediated by a computer screen. But despite that shift, there is unexpected freedom to cheerfully revisit the modest motifs of everyday life that painters have done for centuries; lovers, flowers, a dog staring in delight at its own tale. Despite expectations, there is space in our mediated realities for the prettiness of pictures.
About the artist
Austin Lee (b.1983) lives and works in New York. He received an MFA in Painting from Yale School of Art and a BFA from Tyler School of Art. His most recent solo exhibitions include shows at Postmasters Gallery in New York, Carl Kostyal in London and Stockholm, Kaleidoscope in Milan and New Gallery in Paris, with upcoming exhibitions in BANK,
Shanghai and Murakami Gallery, Tokyo. Lee’s work has been written about in Artnews, Art in America, Artinfo, New York Magazine, Leap, Time Out New York and London, The NY Observer, Hyperallergic, Black Book, Dazed & Confused, Kaleidoscope Magazine, The Spectator, and Rhizome.