Black confronts white, movement smacks against immobility and seriousness is sliced with subtle humor. Unlike the familiar idiom, Michael Lee creates opposites that do not necessarily attract one another, but generate a captivating, if uneasy, tension. His use of patterns and collage make for optical illusion that produce visual challenges and seemingly impossible scenarios. The disorientation that results is most definitely intentional.

Speakers, an art show curated by Michael and colleagues, opens Thursday, October 4, 2012, 6 – 9 @ 111 Front St #216 in DUMBO, Brooklyn.

Lee is explicit about his interest in mystery and the importance of process. During my visit to his studio he asserted that we are generally “drawn to things because of how they are made.” This perspective can be seen in the way that Lee insists on destabilizing fundamentals of form; portraits are “bent” into landscapes and traditional subjects are “buried” in the background, prompting the observer to investigate these puzzles. Lee’s work suggests that there may be a reason that your view is blocked and perhaps “you should not be dwelling on what is behind but what is right in front of you.”

Insisting on a perspective shift, imploring the observer to see the forest and the trees and even the interstitial space between them, is arguably one of Lee’s main themes. In fact, one of the predominant pieces in his studio is something he calls a forest, although representation is not immediately evident. Colorful kinetic patterns are interspersed with stark white and reflective strips; this arrangement, as Lee puts it, has almost nothing in common with real, live trees, but the effect is a kind of still life though the feeling is anything but immobile.

Acknowledging the ways that his job teaching influences his work, Lee described how he was inspired to include these the reflective materials from his experience teaching an art history course; reviewing the work of a late renaissance baroque painter he came upon a piece in which the artist  put a mirror into the painting. The reflective strips in his conceptual forest include and incorporate any and all observers in of the piece itself, albeit in a distorted,  fragmented and momentary manner.


Lee toys with the vaguely menacing while still laughing at the absurd. His work clearly points to “problem solving and personal expression,” and the relationship between the two — the inherent boldness of asserting anything at all given the way it necessarily announces the self. Lee’s obfuscation of subject comments with coyness on this dilemma of creativity.

Lee’s has explored and shared his interest in the artistic process though the Artist Lecture Series which he has organized with his colleagues Zoe Pettijohn Schade and Christopher Schade. Lee and his colleagues have curated groups show which highlights the work of the speakers who particpated in the series. Aptly titled, Speakers, the show opens this  Thursday, October 4th at 111 Front Street Galleries in Dumbo. Head down and check it out. The show runs through November 3rd.

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