Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Review: Nathan Lee's "mad little world"

Guest author: John Brandenburg, Norman artist and arts writer

A series of ten small, cartoonlike crayon, colored pencil and graphite drawings explored the responses to existential dilemmas of a rotund character and his companions in a show by Nathan Lee.

The small exhibit by Oklahoma City artist Lee was on view during late April and May at Six11 Creative, 611 North Broadway, described as a “gathering space supporting creativity and justice in the world.”

A woman seems to be comforting a man with dot eyes and a teeny circle nose, as the seasons change from spring and summer to fall and winter, in the first 4-part “Different Reasons, Different Seasons” drawing.
She performs a similar function for a man in the second work in Lee’s series, called “How Could You?” The circumstances are more extreme, however, as indicated by a knife floating in the air, an overturned chair, and a paranoid fantasy figure fleeing through a broken doorway, in Lee’s “How Could You?”

Lee said the third work, in which the man kicks the behind of one of three men in dunce caps, standing on a crowd of giant heads, expresses a theme of “Liberation from Fools.”“Everybody follows the masses, but the person has decided he doesn’t want to follow them,” the artist, who maintains a studio in Oklahoma City, explained.

Two other works depict “Escapists,” jumping into space, holding umbrellas like parachutes, and a man “Flying from the Storm,” searching for his bearings, suspended from strings, attached to birds.

Space between a man and a woman breaking up at sunset becomes the metaphor of “It’s Over, Isn’t It,” while a woman tries to keep a man from hanging himself in “If I Can Get One Thing Right.”

A man flies “Away” over the mountains on the back of a bird in his work of that title, and a couple seeks to flee from a conflagration on a raft in “Us.”

Lee said he “chose to use isolation rather than fire or buildings” to represent the theme of “love triumphant when everything burns down around you” in the latter work.

A man clings with one hand to a cliff which other men, “The Free-Fall Kings,” have just jumped from, to their doom, in the final work in the series.

In a statement, Lee described the series of drawings, called “Our Mad Little World,” which he plans to publish as a hardback book, as “an exploration of human insecurity and the fragility of our world.”

He said its themes “range from feelings of helplessness to taking chances in life without knowing the outcome.”

“Each of the works is a self-contained episode that deals with a particular idea,” he commented of the drawings in the series, which he said have an “air of uncertainty and unease.”

“They are random and cohesive at the same time.  They are moments that seem inexplicable until the viewer explores the work for a deeper meaning.

“Visually, I wanted to use characters that appeared childlike but always surrounded by an air of seriousness.  I did this to illustrate how sometimes we are na├»ve to the gravity of situations we commit to.

“The whimsical nature of the subjects is also a deliberate contrast to the overwhelming nature of some of the topics I explore.  Some situations are so tumultuous all one can do is laugh nervously to get through.

“I want ‘Our Mad Little World’ to make viewers stop and think about not only what is going on around them, but also what is going on within them,” Lee added.

A mostly self-taught artist born in 1974, Lee said he has been influenced by Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts,” and by African American mixed media artist Danny Simmons during his time in New York City.

He said his journey into art began as an underground hip hop artist in the conscious group Urban Philosophy, but later left the music industry because it was more concerned with monetary gain than artistic integrity.

A member of “Inclusion in Art,” a group of artists dedicated to promoting racial diversity in Oklahoma’s art community, Lee has curated several exhibits focusing on racial inclusion and social issues.

Recently, he was curator of “Transcend,” an exhibit focusing on the state’s contemporary Black artists, which has been made into a film of the same title, probing the lives of five such artists, directed by J. Leigh.

Also known as a sculptor and working in a variety of media, Lee’s recent show of the “mad little world” drawings was well worth visiting during its run through May at the Six11 art space.

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