Thaniel Ion Lee: An ImPerfect Circle

Thaniel Ion Lee: An ImPerfect Circle

Thaniel Ion Lee’s recent ink drawings on paper evoke a fantastic vision of life, death, nature, and desire that could easily be inspired by the Early Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights.” Lee’s “family” of bizarre and distorted imagery—from outstretched eyeballs to floating religious figures, appear as direct descendents of Bosch’s eccentric and often grotesque figures culled from an invented “heaven” and “hell.” In several works, disembodied anatomical parts, such as female breasts and brains appear to grow from a strange garden, or flowering bed of black line.

Manipulating a Sharpie pen with his mouth, Lee’s drawing technique forces his eye within inches of the paper’s surface. In order to fully apprehend certain details in the drawings and to experience first-hand the artist’s own proximity to the work, the viewer must also observe it at close range.

Despite his formal academic training, Lee eschews traditional representation, choosing to render images and objects in a whimsical manner reminiscent of visionary or folk art. The artist states that for his exhibit at Swanson Reed Contemporary, he wanted “to simplify his technique and do what he would have done as a 17 year old, if a 17 year old knew anything about art history.”

Lee notes that his work incorporates many art historical traditions and practices, including Surrealist automatic drawing (designed to reveal the subconscious) as well as Abstract Expressionist painting, evident in Lee’s “all-over” attention to the surface. He also appropriates conceptual strategies similar to artist Sol LeWitt who established rules for realizing process-based artwork. For his drawings at Swanson Reed, for example, Lee began each work with an attempt to draw a perfect circle. Yet, rather than produce uniform and symmetrical works that converge on a Minimalist aesthetic (as seen in LeWitt’s gridded wall drawings and geometric forms, for example), Lee’s strategy yields ornate decoration, twisted line, and imaginary worlds. Although an ultimately imperfect circle, Lee’s drawings successfully negotiate ideals of art with realities of constraint. According to the artist, such limitation informs the outcome of any aesthetic.

-Maiza Hixson