Melbourne-based artist Rhys Lee offers us an insight into his studio, revealing exciting aspects of his creative process. Throughout this exclusive interview, he walks us through his everyday life as an artist and allows us to immerse ourselves in his artistic practice while learning more about his beginnings, his current work-flow and the biggest challenges he had to face as an artist. Within Lee’s work we can appreciate his unique choice of palette and application of paint - his experimental approach to art, as well as his aesthetic in which he pushes the boundaries between presentation and abstraction - being always in constant flux. We are thrilled to announce Lee’s upcoming solo show titled "Applism" which opens June 16 at NBB Gallery by giving the viewer an exclusive preview of his enigmatic and captivating art.
What was it that pushed you to become an artist, what were your beginnings like?
When I was a kid in the 80's, I was constantly drawing. The main subject matter was political caricatures of local politicians, gory heads from horror movie magazines and graffiti lettering. I became more interested in the graffiti culture in the mid 80's and it progressed into full time involvement throughout the 90's. I never made a conscious decision to be an artist, it was just about following a path of natural progression. The desire to make things and try to be better each time. Allocating as much time as possible to the creative process and strive forward.
Is there a specific material, environment or sentiment that is integral to your work?
Oil paint might be an integral ingredient to the work.. but I also like to use and experiment with other materials. The solitude of the studio environment is important. Being surrounded by the controlled mess of making, brings some kind of comfort and familiarity. It’s a safe and sacred space for ideas and practice.
Can you describe the process of how you create your art? How does a normal day in the studio look like for you?
Most days I try to be in the studio by 10 am, working for about 7 hours. Maybe beginning with the arduous task of cleaning brushes or working on multiple drawings and plans for a painting. I usually make approximately 20 - 30 small drawings and then I'll sketch something on a black primed canvas taken from the smaller drawings. Often the paint is squirted directly onto the canvas from the tube. The painting process is alway exciting from start to finish. The struggle and the unknown, it keeps pulling me back for more every time.
How do you manage the work-life balance as an artist?
I'm not sure about balance.. work is life and life is work! However I reluctantly do take holidays from time to time and love spending time with my two amazing children, who I hang out with everyday. My partner, Pia Murphy has a studio right next door so we can also spend a lot of time together, sharing some ideas and paint tubes.
We assume that being an artist means to be in a constant motion in terms of your style, themes, depending on your environment, interests, surroundings, i.a. Do you think that particularly in the last three years, after the tumultuous changes that we’ve endured globally, your artistic practice has experienced a shift in some way as well?
Over the last 3 years with the global changes, I don't feel that it has affected my practice. I'm fortunate to live and work out of the city. It's quiet with lots of trees and open spaces. It has felt like business as usual in the solitude of the studio.
One amongst many recurring themes that resurface in your work - specifically in this upcoming exhibition - are skulls. What is it about the skulls that you are interested in exploring through your art?
I haven't actually painted any skulls for a long time! I was working on my friend’s album cover artwork recently. He wanted an image of a skull. I continued with a small series of skulls. I seem to always do series of things.. I like the repetition, it’s exciting to explore a theme that evolves through repeating. As the form and colours change.. it then morphs into something else..another idea or another series.
You have had an extensive and versatile career, having exhibited all over the world. During your years of experience as an artist what would you consider as one of the biggest challenges you had to face as an artist?
As an artist I'm trying to maintain some sort of currency and relevance. Money comes and goes but it is irrelevant to being an artist. You always find a way to make things no matter what challenges you face. With experience, you work out how to overcome certain situations and move forward.
What kinds of projects would you do if you had unlimited resources and time?
If I had unlimited resources and time, I'd like to work on some large public sculptures. I have made quite a few bronzes over the years, to see these on a monumental scale would be exciting.
Rhys Lee’s ‘Applism’ will be on display from June 16 - July 07, 2022 at NBB Gallery.
All photos: © Rhys Lee