Paulson Lee is a Los Angeles based artist who explores the performative self, the exchange between material and immaterial, and the digital landscape of the internet through his painting, installation, and video practices. Trained as a painter, draftsman, and illustrator, Lee’s practice is heavily based in the narrative.
Paulson Lee uses painting, video, and mixed media to create an immersive world that addresses loss, grief, and healing translated through the escapist languages of pop culture, mass media, and Southern California aesthetics. Constantly flickering between satire and sincerity, Lee’s work highlights the dual nature of identity and the tension that this creates– the veneer and what lies just beneath the surface.
Growing up, Paulson Lee was accustomed to hearing the widely used idiom, “boy’s don’t cry.” These restrictive and outdated perceptions about masculinity and emotional expression are challenged through his recent digital video Boys Don’t Cry (2020), a self-portrait that explores the complexities of both personal and public grief. The creation and development of this work marks Lee’s own journey of processing the grief, ennui, and despair of both losing his father and living during a global pandemic.
The scrolling background emulates the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) color bars, signaling the end of the day’s programming and invoking the term “going off the air.” The figure of Lee, tears running down his face, is depicted holding a phone while the flash goes off, suggesting that he is taking a selfie–or perhaps taking a photo of the viewer.
This begs the questions: What does it mean to document your own sadness and what. does it mean for the viewer to watch? Some might believe that performing sadness through selfies or social media posts might be disingenuous, lacking a certain sincerity for the sake of spectacle; others might suggest that documenting mourning and grief and the act of making this publicly accessible are common. forms of processing emotion. Ultimately, through Boys Don’t Cry, Lee is potentially suggesting something more nuanced –in an increasingly online and digitally connected world, isn’t it possible that we are adapting our traditional expressions of grief, sadness, and mourning?
– Carlo Tuason
ABOUT THE CURATOR
Carlo Tuason is a curator, scholar, and musician based in Los Angeles. His research explores the entanglements between authority, power, creative resistance, and visual/sonic cultures in Hong Kong and throughout East/Southeast Asia. In particular, he’s interested in the shared embodied and visceral aesthetics of authority and resistance within social movements. He holds an MA from the University of Southern California in Curatorial Practices and the Public Sphere, a BM in Music Performance, and a BA in International Affairs from the University of Cincinnati. He releases music under the stage name “Chay Guan.”