Jim Lee, who has a show at Freight + Volume this month, talks to Jon Lutz at The Old Gold. “I’m not sure if it’s that Lee’s paintings are getting better over time, but I’m always surprised with where he takes it,”Lutz writes in the intro. “In the way that Eggleston’s color reverberates, Lee’s work has a palpable hum from the studio. Nothing moves fast and there’s no bullshit.” Here’s an excerpt of their conversation.
Lutz: For some reason, it’s hard for me to imagine you doing still lifes and figure drawing. Did you follow a traditional path to art making?
Lee: I have done one still-life…I was about 12 years old…about 24 x 32…the usual grapes and round objects that resembled some sorta fruit you’d eat on a beach…and a skull tucked among the other objects. Everything sorta morphed into each other. I was looking at the Cezanne’s (you know the ones with the skulls) and I love figure drawing. I occasionally go up to the illustration society up on Lex and 64th (I think). You go in on a Tuesday or a Thursday night and they always have 2 models, some live jazz or a lounge singer and a bar. I always sit at the bar to avoid the crowd.
As far as making the work…and the path I took. I guess the first artist I really fell for was Kurt Schwitters. I grew up in a small town in Michigan of about 1,400 people, but the town was home to a very small university that had a decent library. I discovered inter-library loan and would request books from say the University of Michigan. So here I am about 18 or so, graduated from high school, getting ready for junior college and I’m looking at Schwitters. It was Schwitters that allowed me to work with materials. I would also go see shows in Chicago. I remember I liked going to the old contemporary space and they had a Julian Schnabel drawing show…large frames, huge gestures and bravado…pony skins. I bought the catalog…my first art book. I usually only looked at pictures but this time I read the essays and it mentioned Joseph Beuys as a influence on Schnabel. So I looked up Beuys and then read about him and discovered some of his students…Imi Knoebel and Blinky Palermo. When I saw this…well, I guess that is a sorta path to my work.
Lutz: I sometimes wonder what response those outside of the art world might have to certain work. It’d be hard to say the most common comment, “my kid could do that” about your work, but what do you think they would say?
Lee: That’s a good question. I hope people just take time to look. Vocabulary gets in the way of a lot of things in this world. People get nervous if they can’t say to their friends I saw this beautiful painting of a kitty cat…it looked so real. I wish someone would say, “I saw this White painting today and it looked so real”. But I guess, most would say, “what am I supposed to be looking at?” Read more.
“Jim Lee: Paranoid,” Freight +Volume, New York, NY. Through April 4.