CURRENT ISSUE | FALL 2017: THE IDEA OF HISTORY
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Evan Lee

In his exhibition “Drawn from Memory,” Evan Lee, in a departure from his forays into photographic experiments and still life, takes up subject matter drawn from the everyday. Whereas his previous work often played with double meanings in a somewhat surreal, paranoid-critical way—ginseng roots that resemble squid-like creatures and cardboard boxes that evoke cartoon-like facial expressions—here Lee favours a direct representation of his subjects. He approaches elements of daily life—some reflections of reality, others inspired by memories and past experiences—in a straightforward manner, with great attention to detail and texture. Though ostensibly employing a documentary aesthetic, Lee imbues subjects both personal and banal with a quiet sense of dignity and intimacy.

The theme of mortality is explored in Portrait of the Artist’s Grandmother, in which Lee’s frail, ailing grandmother is pictured curled on her bed. Mundane details like an exposed box spring, covers that have been pushed aside and objects cluttering the bedside table give an impression of the everyday. Framed photos that surround the woman, each featuring an individual immortalized through photography, add to the sense of stillness. Lee’s grandmother passed away shortly after this photograph was taken, so it serves as documentary evidence—following Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida—of her existence as well as her significance to the artist himself.

The theme of life and death is further explored in Hedge Entrance, Mountainview Cemetery, in which the focal point is a cut hedge, its exposed twigs and branches reminiscent of skeletal forms. The hedge separates a cemetery from a residential area. Lee’s portrayal of a specific Vancouver neighbourhood is complemented by an intimation of the universality of mortality and the human condition.

Three Boxes in the Artist’s Studio imbues mundane objects with the same importance as landscape and figures. In this work, several cardboard boxes—slightly tattered in places and littered with remnants of packing tape—have been carefully placed inside one another like Russian nesting dolls. Normally objects to be discarded, these boxes are now objects of attention; they dominate the foreground, set against the strong diagonals of the dusty, paint-spattered concrete floor.

Lee’s large-scale black-and-white photographs are juxtaposed with small pencil drawings derived from a photographic study of elderly Chinese women. The act of drawing allowed the artist to work intimately with his subjects, rendering their gestures, postures and attire as signifiers of distinct personalities. The drawings complement his photographs, which demonstrate an intimate familiarity with people, places and objects and result in a unique, autobiographical depiction of Vancouver.

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