ArtFCity | Recommended Bushwick Open Studio: Leelee Chan


LeeLee Chan's sculpture, painting, and photos all fit squarely in the same world. The paintings and photos focus heavily on reflection, while her sculpture combines reflective, industrial items with organic elements. There's a preciousness in her placement and handling of delicate clusters that seems to talk about both nature and commodity. Evoking the language of Eileen Quinlan, Chan's manipulation of scale and focal length produce paintings and sculptures that seem otherworldly.


I was reading bird shapes in your abstract paintings for a while and then realized that they might not be there at all. I noticed Ginny used birds in a few of her paintings as well. You share a studio with Ginny - do you influence each others work?

I don't think there is a direct influence, but we are interested in many similar things. We are both big fans of the work of Louise Bourgeois, Bonnard, Morandi, de Kooning, Philip Guston, Helen Frankenthaler, Amy Sillman and so on. Both of our work shares a desire for making forms that integrate gestural marks to provoke a space of psychological perception. Our work is driven by very different creative impulses but it shares a sense of nature roots. While Ginny has a natural relationship to nature and animals, mine is a more alien and synthetic relationship. Even though there are some metamorphic creature forms at times, there is never any direct portrayal of human and animal form within my work. I do not look at representational images of them for inspiration either. Instead, I draw from looking at images of things that are created by human inhabitants. For instance, I collect and use found objects, industrial and reflective materials, everyday consumer products for my sculpture. My work is always prompted by and leaves a human trace. Finally, I also think the way we handle paint is very different. This has made for a really healthy working environment. I have learned a lot by looking at the materiality and surface of Ginny's oil painting. We talked about artists and materials that we like. I find myself asking for her opinion when I feel stuck.


It seems like there's always some mechanically produced shape juxtaposed with more amorphous forms. Do you find one dominates another?

Finding the balance between the spontaneous and deliberate, intuitive and consciousness is a deep concern in my work. I always start a painting with some amorphous forms, for instance by watery wash or spray paint, to allow for unexpected occurrences and accidents to happen. It is totally intuitive and the most natural way for me to start a painting. For me, this creates a certain atmosphere, a sense of light and subtle fields of color constituting the preliminary groundwork for my paintings. From this vantage point, I then push the painting further by exploring the possibilities of incorporating some mechanically produced shapes - to transit amorphous form to images. Yet, at times I also reverse the order of the two. In my recent paintings, for instance, I carefully mask out some shapes first, which I then overlap with more amorphous forms. I want these forms to interweave, thereby conveying a sense of the impossibility of grasping anything definitively.


Is your work "about" a specific thing? What do you consider your core working concerns?

My work is decisively abstract and non-narrative. It is not really about a specific thing. Although there may be forms that call to mind recognizable objects at times, my working concern is to capture a fleeting moment and provide an open-ended reading. In my paintings, but also in my sculpture, I generally explore the interplay of space and mediums. I am particularly interested in the notion of macro/micro and makeshift worlds in urban cities. As such, my work is rooted in an urban estrangement from nature. The paper and glue collage approach I use in my painting emerged as an overall mentality that I take to the making of each piece in which colors, subtle shifts, light, structures, textures, geometry and the organic are all interchanging As for my sculpture, these facilitate the idea of collaging illusionary and actual space by way of exploring and utilizing texture, light and objects and through the endless transformation and accumulation of different materials such as found objects, industrial and reflective materials, everyday consumer products and paint. I think of my sculpture as pictures occupying space, rather than as physical objects. I seek to play with the viewer's perception of what is beautiful and what is absurd by bringing into focus things that are often overlooked. I do this by transforming these incongruous materials into living entities, each generating its own meaning. The viewer completes the whole picture by looking at the space behind, under and above the sculpture and the pictorial space within it.


What music do you listen to in the studio?

I need to have music on all the time. I can't work in silence. It helps me to get into the zone and let loose of my consciousness. I listen to lots of different things depending on what I am working on at that moment, anything from Indie rock, tri pop, electronic to Chinese indie music. Lately, I've been listening to Madrugada, The National, Blonde Redhead, Massive Attack, Radiohead and Stereolab.