Adam Lee

Reflecting on Monolith and its networked nature

By Kent Wilson

Few know the power of a composition better than artists – to understand the way forms can be arranged into a set of relationships that result in a momentary exultation of affect. It’s not necessarily a balance or an equilibrium either. It might be discord and disharmony. Artists allow themselves, even tune themselves, to become instruments that can read the nuances of gravitational force that comes with the specific arrangements of particular forms. They are experimenters of relationship counselling for forms. They revel in the process of building compositional array and the way in which to describe and ascribe a given network of parts in a material expression of interest to an audience.

As we know, the conductors of experiments are inculcated into the experiments that they produce, observe and analyse. An artist is attuned to matching this square of red with that triangle of orange through their attentiveness to relationships of scale, the space between the shapes, the proximity to the edge of the field, the nature of the materials used and a suite of other concerns that are processed, filtered and decided upon in the blink of an eye, thanks to an innate temperamental approach and years of practice.

For the highly intuitive, this instrumental understanding of relationships, of networked connections, extends just as equally outward from the artwork as it does inwardly within the artwork itself. That sanded back section of muted grey that was just applied to the lower left hand side of the canvas is just as connected to the condition of the cotton duck upon which it sits, as it is with the artist’s car that sits in the driveway next to the studio. The artist is a nodal point in a rich array of connective threads that run out to the world and hold communicative association with atmosphere, circumstance and environment. Take an artist and throw them into a brand new assemblage of relationships – a change of climate, language, behaviours – and they will reconstitute their web like a master weaver because of their inherent service to the production of art and their instrumentation as filterers and conjurers.

It’s little wonder that artist residencies are a significant part of the art world ecology. Adam Lee is the inaugural participant in the Glasshouse/Stonehouse Residency that affords artists from Australia and New Zealand a chance to live and work in France. Located in rural Chenaud, this wonderful opportunity puts artists into a new atmosphere, circumstance and environment for the purposes of producing new bodies of work that can then be exhibited in Australia. Lee embedded himself in this European setting and his time spent there is the genesis of the work you see in Monolith.

Significantly, Lee brought his family with him, that most intimate of inner networks. His young daughter would come in and out of his studio to paint and participate. And with the supportive structure of the family heightened in unfamiliar settings, Lee’s relationships with art, work, family and identity were reset and reconfigured. These qualitative aspects that come about as a result of participation in artist residencies are highly valuable. They become part of the impact upon an artist’s practice in much the same register of importance as new breakthroughs in mark-making, material choice or medium awareness. The art exhibition is just one atom in a complex molecule of chemical and magnetic compositional outcomes. And in ways more pressing than in normal circumstances, the reflection and relation between the way one works and the way one lives becomes heightened.

Lee poured his energies into absorbing the new circumstances of his situation and in the productive generation of painted imagery. Lee works in the zone where the painted image overlays the spatial history of the artist and the spatial history of the viewer. Where experience and source material references are echoed in colour and form that transports historical legacy into a dynamic confrontation with a present experiential moment. Producer-histories partner with consumer-histories and in that moment, negotiate an unstable propositional history. A discordant equilibrium of vibration and intensity that manifests in his choice of colour and the ambiguity of identifiable subject matter.

Art of a symbolic and actual ambiguity is high-risk game that respects the consumer’s capacity for data recall and imaginative invention. A symbolistic gamble that ascribes a purpose to a process and outcome that is only decipherable with contemplative meditation on a composition of colour and form without a guiding key chart. Navigation is both an exercise in referents and a surrender to intuition.

Harking back into the archetypal channels us ever deeper through the commonalities of our biological memories. A conversation between Jung and Homer over the nature of Odysseus’ relationship with his wife. In a café in Tokyo over a coffee brewed by a barista from Perth. From Plato’s cave to the physical structure of the eyeball and its pupil aperture. Light must pass through a hole with the name of a student who learns through process and only in retrospect. Painting allows us to produce a concave projection into a sheet of canvas covered by coloured oils. And at once pushing forward, also pushing back, encouraging a parenthetic concave projection inside the vast territories of the viewer’s inner mind.

Lee took in mythology, religious notions of quietude, architectural expression of spiritual dominance over nature and churned them through the fabricating networks of his conditions in France, and then later back in his studio in the hills of the Macedon Ranges. The resultant hallucinogenic dreamscapes push us up against the detuned membrane-screen separating us from other realities where our timelines are fractious and our living mingle with our dead.

There is a devotional aspect to the artist’s work ethic and commitment to both materials and imagery. And with this comes a sort of humble sacrifice in the service of divination ends. Conjuring and evoking, Lee is both conduit and manifestation. Meditative qualities exist for producer and consumer of his images, relishing a slowed temporality that asserts a partnered engagement. These are the qualities between his choices, the character of the substance that binds his networks and underpins his paintings. What the meaning and content of those paintings are, is for you and your own awareness of representation and context. These elements already sing, already clearly and confidently declare their beauty and strength as art. But they are scaffolded, underwritten and cut through with Lee’s own generosity of spirit. His searching drive to look deep within himself, his atmosphere, circumstance and environment, and reconstitute new worlds for us that echo pasts and envisage futures, is a gift and an actual cultural asset.

The Glasshouse/Stonehouse Residency is a recognition of the value of the cultural, and seeks to foster a richer dialogue between Australia and Europe. Lee has been able to draw together threads in the fabric of his work that will continue to echo at a harmonic frequency that provides for a wave-syncing enrichment of cross-cultural relations. Thank goodness there are platforms and places for such activities, and thank goodness an Australian artist like Lee is set loose to develop his networks of history, image, family and art.