Artist Interview: David Michael Lee

36760900_nPainter, curator, and educator David Michael Lee has been a stalwart of the Orange County art scene for many years now. Lee’s work hangs in several prominent collections including the Phyllis & Ross Escalette Permanent Collection of Art. He serves as Director and curator for the Coastline Art Gallery and has a long history of creating various “happenings” in Orange County, many during his stint as a member of the now legendary Santa Ana Seven. If all that isn’t enough, Lee is also one half an Orange County art “power” couple. Lee is married to Julie Perlin Lee, Director of Collections at the Bowers Museum.

With his plate as full as it is, I found myself wondering how Lee has time to make any art? But make art he does and his most recent series of paintings titled Seascapes will be on view at Brett Rubbico Gallery in Newport Beach beginning this month. The opening will take place on Saturday March 22nd 7:00-10:00 p.m. Before things got even busier I carved out some time from Lee’s busy schedule to ask him a few questions about his work and art making practice. Enjoy:

How did you start making art?

Never being that good at drawing… it came easy for a few friends of mine and it made it difficult to stay interested when it got frustrating. I had to redefine what it meant to be creative. I did learn how to process film and work with a camera at a young age and that was helpful because I was a horrible surfer/skater/ snowboarded and photography kept me active in my circle of friends. Saying all of that I started to make art, as a career decision, in 1996 after a trip to Europe.

Seascape 7

Seascape 7

Why do you make art?

As a maker of art I have hopes to sell it or trade it for more art, there is also gifting to institutions and most importantly, being part of an active community of creators. I like my conversations with myself while making art and discussions I have with others about process as well as exploring new ways of communication. Watching what can be a very simple idea turn into something that can be shared with others.

Seascape 2

Seascape 2

How would you describe your subject matter?

The subject matter would be me and it always changes. The one thing that keeps coming back are the basics, the building blocks. I like shapes and color, sometimes forms in paintings. The subject matter may as well be the work I made before and the inspiration could be a thought of what it could be in the future….

Do certain themes occur/reoccur in your work?

There is less of a theme and more of a color pallet that reoccurs. Blues and reds, are my favorite, mixed correct there can be wonderful harmony, vibrating in your peripheral vision, the painting will not whisper but rather yell at you to look its way.

Seascape 3

Seascape 3

How did you balance your art making with your curatorial efforts?

I see them as one in the same, for two reasons. Half of being in the arts is participation in the community. One can work all day and all night in their studio, but that will not help get a show or sell. Curating keeps me active in the community, looking at what is out there and seeing what is trending.  The other is, when I am painting I am thinking about everything else other than painting, this gives me time to think about shows, marketing, calendars and artists.

What do you read, listen to, or look at to fuel your work and find inspiration?

I use to read non-fiction, science related autobiographies, as well as David Sedaris’s short stories, laughing and thinking that helps.  As for listening… movies that I have seen over 20 times, no need to watch them anymore the audio allows me to visualize the film. Then looking as fuel?…. everything, but now I like to touch things at the same time.

Seascape 4

Seascape 4

What new projects do you have planned?

I am getting ready for a lot of new curatorial things. Spaghetti Western, RIBBA an IKEA show, Farm to FORK, ABSTRACT, Print show. For my own work… Back into the studio not sure where things are going.

How can people find your work?

Brett Rubbico Gallery,


You can also sign up for a class at Coastline College Newport Beach, I show my work to students all the time.

Where would we find you on social media?

Facebook, Instagram most of the time.

I still have a few blogs.



One Response to “Artist Interview: David Michael Lee”
  1. Love the tips and art work.