Seasons for a Day: Paintings by Jivan Lee | Art



It was a cold, windy and rainy day in winter. The grassy fields of the watershed between the painter and his subject, Taos Mountain, have been whitewashed by the season. Clouds rolled quickly over the mountain and, in an instant, almost obliterated it from the painter’s sight before the sky opened, and the winter sun washed the distant peak of a tint. golden. He continued to paint. Not one panel, but five, capturing the drama of the storm and its peaceful aftermath.

This small group of oils, each measuring 14 by 11 inches, is one of a series of 72 paintings, 10,000 Mountains / Winter (2021), which captures the spectacle of time and light in northern New Mexico, which can change in place.

“I actually went there thinking, it’s a cloudy and rainy day, and I did a bunch of these paintings, but I didn’t see this dynamic storm,” explains the full painter. air Jivan Lee. “So I’m going to paint this dynamic storm. What I hope is that by doing my best animation, the painting tells this story of exposure and physics. “

All paintings by 10,000 mountains, including the set of 72 included in Lee’s exhibition Watershed are only a subset, are from the same point of view. The series as a whole offers viewers a glimpse of changes over time and not just from season to season or day to day but, often, moment to moment.

“There are so many things that are miraculous and unexpected at any given time,” says Lee, who turned 37 at the end of July. “When I stand where the light changes, something unexpected is going to happen that I never predicted in the studio. I go into this chance where weather and nature are the masters and I just follow. “

Jivan Lee in his studio (2021)

Take any individual panel from the series, such as 10,000 mountains – 2/3/21 # 4, which was made as the winter storm was clearing, and you see he combines the dynamism of the scene in front of him with his gestural painting technique. He applies the paint in a thick layer, spreading it with a combination of paintbrushes and flexible acrylic palette knives. It is the colors of the mountain, dominated by ochres and blues that emerge from the dissipating clouds, that have an immediate impact. But isolate just one section of the composition and it would appear as a pure, non-objective abstraction. The shapes are poorly defined, but the painting as a whole gives an unmistakable landscape impression.

It is the same for all his paintings.

Watershed, which is on view until August 21 at the LewAllen Galleries (1613 Paseo De Peralta, 505-988-3250,, presents more than the 10,000 mountains series. The exhibit includes multiples of larger paintings, 30 by 30 inches, a series called River curves (2021), which features views from the same vantage point over a meandering river between hills and mesas. River curves captures the changes made by light during the same day, from dawn to evening. Even larger paintings are included, such as his 4ft by 9ft diptych Monument # 33 (2021).

Lee is not the first landscaper to revisit a subject several times. The French impressionist Claude Monet was famous for this. But, unlike Lee, Monet didn’t switch to a new canvas after an interval of 15 minutes (or slightly longer or shorter durations). For Lee, painting in this way meant working quickly, applying colors in a gestural, intensely physical act.

“Doing so many iterations over time means that chance becomes a real ingredient of the experience,” says Lee. “Being there and pulling them apart like I do, there’s this magical thing happening that becomes much more of an actor in the dynamics of the whole piece. There is no expected result. I really identify with some of the abstract expressionists, who embraced chance. “

Although he has been a painter since his college days, first as an undergraduate student at Bard College in New York, where he studied painting while pursuing a degree in biology in the early 2000s, he did not ‘continued his career only in 2011.

“Over the past decade I have asked myself: Why am I painting now? It was a surprise to do this professionally. That’s not why I went to college.

Lee received a Master of Science in Environmental Policy, also at Bard, in 2007, a year before moving to Albuquerque to recover from an acute manifestation of Lyme disease.

“I came to Albuquerque to recover,” he says. “My best friend from college had an extra room in his place. I thought I would be here for a few weeks, and it’s been 13 years.

In 2009, Lee joined Taos, working as a consultant on environmental issues and sustainable practices. He taught at the University of New Mexico, where he developed an art and ecology program and was a consultant on sustainability and tribal preservation projects at Taos Pueblo.

“My process during the first five years of landscape painting was to follow intuition and see where it leads,” he says. This meant that Lee could be away for hours or days, painting not only the surroundings of Taos but other areas of the state as well.

“Since my daughter was born, I wanted to stay closer to home, be a parent and be involved as much as possible. I’m not going to drive four hours if I have to be home to put her to bed and help her in the middle of the night if she wakes up.

Seasons for a Day: Jivan Lee's Paintings

Jivan Lee, River curves – Early morning (2021), the two oils on panel

Returning to the same places nearby to paint led to the idea of ​​multiples, which became an exercise in capturing the mercurial nature of the landscape in something close to real time. In the river bed series, in which each table is captioned according to the time of day – Dawn, Sunrise, Early in the morning, and Sunset – he was concentrating on the light. In large-scale works like Monument # 33, it was about merging the contradictory nature of the New Mexico landscape (the stillness of the earth under a fickle sky) into a single composition.

“In the larger paintings, you sort of shoehorn the equivalent of a whole day of experience, observation and impression,” he says. “There is an infinite number of things going on that I have no cognitive awareness of but which nonetheless affect the experience of the place at all times. Everything comes in one piece. With these smaller tables, it’s a bit the other way around. Each is separated by a time interval.

Lay the colors for a series like 10,000 mountains takes place, he says, in an even narrower window of time. Lee simply captures the essence of the place, the general shapes and hues. “It’s kind of like shorthand or something,” he says.

Finishing them takes place in the studio, but the real collaboration between artist and subject occurs in the visceral world of the great outdoors.

“Part of the outdoor process is about physicality,” he says. “I have a skill set and hopefully enough installation with paint. I hope that there is a kind of emptying of the mind that takes place and an energy that emerges from the palette or the gesture. ◀


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