MIKE LEE

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Q: Tell us about your practice

A: Through my work, I am exploring the ideas of how memory is shaped from the experiences of our past. The fracturing and breaking up of form in my work reflect the way we remember aspects of our life and the constant flux it is in relative to the present. Recollections from my childhood play a big part in my work and as I reach back to those memories the more I get a better understanding of myself.

Q: Perhaps most iconic to your work is your exclusive use of grayscale. Can you talk a little bit about why you’ve chosen that as your color palette?

A: Early on there were a number of directions I wanted to explore with my work. But choosing to simplify and limit the palette kept me focused and tapered my mind from spiraling. There’s also an immediate nostalgic quality it brings to the paintings and combining that with computer-generated shadows and gradients allows the work to pull between the past and present which I really like.

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Q: Your most recent body of work “Under the Lemon Tree” feels a lot more grounded in biographical narratives and even feels more visually direct in how your figures react and exist in space. Can you talk a little bit about what shifted for you in working in this new direction?

A: For me, it was a natural shift. Once I complete a body of work, I usually make the effort of introducing a new element or shifting my perspective. In my previous work, the figures were depicted drifting in an ambiguous and undefined space. It mirrored a lot of insecurities going on in my life at the time. I was transitioning from having a steady income job to an uncertain future pursuing a painting career. Placing the figure in a grounded setting now reflects the confidence of this new direction.

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Q: You’ve mentioned how you didn’t come from a formal art education background. How did you come to become a full-time painter?

A: I was a designer in the film/animation industry for over a decade. My focus was utilizing color and light to convey mood and emotion throughout the film. It was a significant part of my life, but my dream was to pursue a painting career. Over the years I would carve out any free time to paint in my apartment. The decision came to fully commit when I was offered an opportunity to show my work and felt as though I had to devote myself wholeheartedly to my practice. 

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how you developed your practice and process along the way?

A: The film industry was an incredible training ground for figuring out how to be efficient with your time and objectively view your work. During the early stages, I do my best not to rush through ideas or consider anything as precious. If a sketch or study doesn't feel right I'll either give it time and revisit the image, or I'm happy to scrap the idea altogether. However when executing and making the actual painting,
I have a regimented structure so it's a fairly smooth and straightforward process. 

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Q: What has been inspiring you lately?

A: I am constantly inspired by my fellow artist friends, newfound genuine relationships, chess, poker, and bitcoin.

COLLECTOR'S QUOTE

“What appealed to me about Mike’s work initially was the craftsmanship of his paintings. There is a lot to admire about his skills. A clear focal point in the way he lights his paintings, the finished surface, and the larger-than-life abstract figures. His paintings are not just black and white. To me, they represent different sides of his personality as I’ve gotten to know him through the years. By making things look limited in color doesn’t mean you don’t have the depths in a painting. I value the simplicity and sometimes prefer it.”

HARRY HU

“The first time I was introduced to Mike’s work was back in 2018 and was immediately drawn to it. His style is so distinct and unique, from his color palette to his meticulously clean brushstrokes. In his work, Mike is able to portray things in a simplistic way but at the same time show so much detail and emotion. It’s so powerful how Mike is able to make viewers feel the emotions being portrayed in his figures and yet they have no face, eyes, and mouth, but still you can sense exactly what they are feeling.”

ROMAN MENDOZA

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The Here and There Collective, LLC is a New York limited-liability company operating through a fiscal sponsorship with Players Philanthropy Fund, a Maryland charitable trust recognized by IRS as a tax-exempt public charity under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (Federal Tax ID: 27-6601178). Contributions to The Here and There Collective are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.