Featured Artist, Nick Lee
Interview with Nick
The body of work explores the idea of using traditionally unrepresented people as the subject, in the history of western art production. Additionally, the work seeks to represent the minorities, specifically Asian Americans that have been diminished in traditional American history of portraiture. The subjects in these works are usually all minorities like the artist, Nick Lee who is Japanese American. We live in a diverse world and we should reflect that in our paintings. There is an important need for representation for the young people of color learning about art to see themselves in paintings. This work wants to give better representation for people of color. People of color have been misrepresented in western art history and these paintings can start a conversation of inclusion.
Biography of Nick Lee
Nick Lee (b. 1996) is a painter and received his BFA from Kent State University in May 2021. Lee is based and works in Cleveland, Ohio. The work that interests Lee is the human condition and the Asian American experience. The goal for Lee's work is to be more inclusive in American portraiture. His work strives for better representation of minorities.
Please share with us about your background, where you grew up and if you had artistic influences in your life.
I was born and raised in Akron, Ohio. When I was a child I was always drawing like most children. I continued drawing seriously and by middle school I became “the drawing kid”. My parents were never artistic people, so they weren’t too sure what to do with me. My parents tried to get me into sports, which I failed miserably at. While in high school, I took on more artistic roles like becoming art club president my senior year. My artistic influences definitely changed throughout the years, but when I was a kid, cartoons like Disney movies really inspired me.
Where did your art story begin and how has art impacted your life?
I would say my art career started in college when I decided to become an artist. I was studying art education for three years. Then I went to New York City on a class field trip. I saw contemporary paintings and I wanted to create works for exhibitions just like the professional artists did. I wondered how I would support myself if my work was not successful. The decision into art is definitely a leap of faith. Art has opened doors for me and I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given because of art. Art is a constant release of my thoughts and emotions and it brings me solace that I can communicate with others on how I am feeling in a non verbal way.
You noted that the goal for your work is to be more inclusive in American portraiture and to better represent minorities. What messages and/or stories do you want your artwork to tell? In addition, what impact would you like to achieve through your art?
My intentions for the work is to be truthful through my own story and stories of other Asian people, through how I relate to them as the artist. The work I choose to do is mainly the Asian American perspective. I can’t talk about other minorities' experiences, because that is not my story to tell. Although I do want to paint more people of color, so there is more inclusivity in my work. Artists have to paint people as individuals instead of trying to make their stories our own. I have respect for the subjects of my work and the viewer can notice this with the effort put into these pieces. I want the work to change the culture, so minorities like myself take more center stage of American painting. There is a need for more acknowledgement of Asian American history and Asian American artists. Our culture and people should be celebrated! If I can inspire more Asian artists to make work and make it easier for them to tell their story ten years from now, then that would be a great success. Lastly I hope that people walk away with more understanding of people that may not look like them or have different customs.
When starting to work on a new painting in your studio, what is your creative process? How do your ideas formulate before you begin to physically create a painting?
The first step when I make a painting is to develop a concept of what the painting represents to me. I usually do this by using symbolism, which are metaphors for how I am feeling in each particular painting through objects. Next I sketch what the painting looks like in my head using graphite or I make a collage on Photoshop. Then I will prepare my canvas and get it covered with an acrylic ground layer. When I add an acrylic ground the surface helps me see color better and it is less daunting to start. Sometimes I draw out the sketch with graphite or just start sketching with the oils. After I sketch out my idea, I begin to paint the background, because this will let me see what color to make the subject more accurately. I do work from both photos and from life. Finally I paint the subject in the foreground. I don't always get it right the first time, so there are revisions and adjustments. I consider a piece finished when I am satisfied and I accomplished my intention of the final product.
What are some standout points or people in your life that guided you to where you are today in your artistic life?
My parents have always supported me even though they did not understand my choices in life. They have been big advocates of my art and they have cheered me on when I have exhibitions. When I was in high school my art teacher Shannon Bowman was a great friend and ally. Mrs. Bowman prepared me for college and she got me excited about art at an early age. While attending Kent State University, Charles Basham taught me color theory and how to paint with oils. Basham is a frank person and told me if the painting was working or not. Charles Basham taught me the most in college and I have much gratitude towards him. Basham is an extraordinary painter and it was an honor to have been taught by such a master.
In the Fall of 2021, you had a month-long residency at the Vincent Van Gogh Lighthouse Immersive exhibit. Tell us about this experience and if it impacted your artistic practice in some way.
The month- long residency I did in the fall was a game changer for me as a young artist. One of the flaws of attending art school is, the faculty does not tell you what to do after you graduate. The message of most art schools is to “wing it” or go back to school and get your masters. I went through Kindergarten to College with no break, so I chose to “wing it”. I needed to find myself outside of classes and professors for a bit. I needed a way to support myself as an adult financially too. I got hired to work at the Van Gogh immersive exhibit, which I thought was exciting because this job is connected to my degree through Vincent Van Gogh. Then I applied and got the residency at this job. This is a rare opportunity to get paid to paint, which I am so grateful to have been selected for! This residency helped me financially and it connected me with so many people. I have never sold so many paintings in my life in such a short month. It is great that I could make people happy with my work and I could pay my rent! The residency asked me to paint in the style of Van Gogh, so my work during the residency was Van Gogh inspired colors and compositions.
Do you create commissioned artwork? What artworks can you create and tell us how that process works if someone is interested in a commissioned piece.
I do make commissioned works. The work I can make for patrons are portraits of people and animals or still lifes. I work from both photos and from life. If someone wants to reach out to me they can email me and I will get back to them usually in a day or so.
Posted January 2022