Evan Lee in dialogue with Emily Carr: a portrait of British Columbia

by Julia

As a student, my artistic practice focused on two subjects: painting and photography.  As far as I was concerned, these two media came from two completely separate worlds – Monet belonged to one, Mapplethorpe to the other.  It wasn’t until the completion of my undergrad career that I did my homework thoroughly enough to discover that these two media did not have to exist eons apart.  While the artistic practice of painting remains my first and most important love, I have recently felt the urge to reintroduce myself to the world of photography that I had for so long neglected – among others, I have a British Columbia artist to thank for that.

Enter Evan Lee.      

The Vancouver Art Gallery currently features British Columbia’s celebrated painter, Emily Carr, in an exhibit titled In Dialogue with Carr.  In this display Carr’s work is put in conversation with four contemporary British Columbia artists: Douglas Coupland, Liz Magor, Marianne Nicholson, and Evan Lee.  One component of the exhibition that hit close to home for me was Evan Lee’s work, as he combined painting with photography, making for an interesting dialogue with Carr’s work.  Carr and Lee are both considered contemporaries of their time, which is illustrated in their “conversation”.

Evan Lee’s recent Forest Fires series as displayed at the VAG, presents us with a mixture of media in the form of expansion of the medium of photography.  Using images of British Columbia forest fires that he found on the internet, Lee prints photographs on traditional darkroom paper using an inkjet printer.  Immediately after the images have printed, Lee uses a paint brush to transform the freshly printed photographs into “paintings” that are reminiscent of the French Impressionist’s work.  While the chosen photographs give us a documentation of the threatening and disorderly aspects of the natural environment, Lee creates expressive and sublime images through the use of brushwork.

The conversation between Lee and Carr discusses their innovative experimentation of their respective time periods.  While Lee physically and figuratively blurs the boundaries between photography and painting, Carr presents her British Columbia landscapes in the format of a portrait rather than a traditional horizontal landscape composition.  Subsequently, both artists prompt us to reconsider artistic boundaries, a concept that remains radical to this day.

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Evan Lee is represented by Art Toronto exhibiting gallery Clark & Faria in Toronto and Monte Clark Gallery in Vancouver.  We are very much looking forward to seeing his work on display this year at Art Toronto!

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