“SUCCESSIONS” @ Jamie Brooks Fine Art
OPENING: April 2, 2016
2967 Randolph Avenue Unit C, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
What is better than an artist’s fresh, brand new, and stimulating paintings? It is seeing David Michael Lee’s 15 year retrospective “Successions”. In this expanse of time, Lee, through his daring and personal exploration of accepted painterly elements, broadens our understanding of artistic possibilities. From graduate school to the present, the groupings of work encompass the artist’s thought processes and perseverance, and how he tackles each problem with zest. Yet, noteworthy too, is that all the art continues his never-ending quest to probe further in the very next group to be painted, or to return to the previous completed series to search for new possibilities to explore more deeply. This timeline, from student to professional, and its many artistic variations, is the most appealing and powerful aspect of the show.
The art is not hung chronologically. But, without the price list and its dates of creation, it is difficult to discern which body of work is older or newer than others. While some work is stronger or more appealing, all the art is consistently stimulating as Lee searches for ways to discover fresh inroads that expand the vocabulary of art, in particular, finding innovative expressions of shapes, space, patterns, surfaces, colors, lines and more.
Taking in the scope of the work, several ideas come to mind: Lee’s paintings are like flattened sculpture, which you cannot walk around, but which gives you a sense that you might be able to. How are they sculptural? Lee explores how painted shapes move in visible and invisible space. It is as if he is carving into the canvas making our vision dimensional, as the work embraces more than what is actually delineated on a flat surface. Buoyed by — vibrant color, or hemp covered shaped canvasses, or patterns of circles, small brush strokes, stripes, various cartoon-like imagery, or the combining of several canvasses into one — each bold statement declares more than what could be confined in one tight panel.
This brings the viewer to Lee’s second and most interesting idea: That the various artistic elements that populate his canvasses, are like characters in a play, and real people in his life. Only these elements change their costumes, act in different scenery, and play new roles. A chorus of circles in one scenario becomes textured elements in another. Lines, stripes, configurations, and dazzling twisted shapes, become transformed as the drama takes us to yet another dialogue. Lee breathes life into these elements, as they represent known characters, and play act before our very eyes.
Created in groups, each painting is in a constant conversation. A simplified shape becomes complex in the next scene, minimal becomes maximum, curved becomes straight. Roles are ever changing as Lee’s painterly characters take on a metamorphosis in each new depiction. In Lee’s 2009 Herb Series he creates geometric forms against a black background, endowing each with planes of different colors to distinguish their spatial position. Their colors, movement, and placement make them appear larger and more dynamic than they are on the small hemp panel. In his Shape in Space series, 2016, also acrylic on hemp, Lee designed shaped panels that bulge out while contrasting with textured configurations that float on a jade acrylic surface. In his Coastal Seascape Series, 2014, Lee describes the harbor as if seen high above in a space that takes the viewer above and beyond the sea and land below. And in Hydrocarbons, 2015, the artist emboldens the picture with a dizzying amount of color, dots, and divisions of planes that evokes rhythms and sound, as the raucous scenario delightfully orchestrates its visual music.
Thus, seeing 15 years of honest and exuberant art, this body of work offers much. It gives each viewer much to enjoy, consider, and contemplate, long after leaving the gallery.
Roberta Carasso, Ph.D.