Visiting Artist Talk: Jim Lee: notes

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Here are a few notes we wrote down during last Thursday’s talk by the New York painter Jim Lee. Tonight at seven in the auditorium we’ll hear from UNLV’s most recent Visiting Artist, Corin Hewitt.

  • “I’m a studio rat. That’s basically it.”
  • as a teenager in a small town (Berrien Springs, Michigan) he wanted to be an artist and live in New York City when he grew up, like Larry Rivers. He remembers having this thought very clearly when he was fourteen. The local library stocked a book about Rivers.
  • His work (he says) is about randomness, about chance – ideas from multiple sources coming together and working “just once.” He carries out the lecture by letting his website bring up images at random. Then he talks about them.
  • a photograph of his favorite bar, the Montero.
  • a photograph of someone else’s handmade sign, Yard + Knife Sale.
  • a photograph of a sign above the toilet in an apartment he rented: Please be Clean When You Do It. He used the same phrase as the title of a show at Nicelle Beauchene in 2013.
  • “I don’t know if I even believe in art school, because I don’t believe you can teach it.”
  • as an undergraduate at Southwestern Michigan College he didn’t like working in a studio with other people around him. He would go outside.  He read about big city artists in magazines. “So what’s going on with this cat in Chicago, Julian Schnabel?” he muses, showing us an old photograph of Schnabel in swimming briefs striding through a garden.
  • Schnabel. Martin Kippenberger. Markus Lüpertz. Tommy White: “one of the most wonderful painters you’ll ever meet, and he’s nasty.”
  • a curator, admiring one of his student paintings, mistook a picture of a moose for a butterfly. At this point he says he decided to take more control of his imagery.
  • “The only thing I can control is getting into that studio every day and making work.”
  • he works on 17 + things at once “because I want to deprogram myself.” Says he hates the color yellow. Says he makes a yellow painting every day. Painting with yellow is another way to deprogram himself. The work he makes “has to be relevant to me.” He doesn’t set agendas, he says: he makes the work he feels he has to make.
  • “I try to create a studio for myself where I’m sort of angry.” It needs to be messy and disruptive. Disruption loosens him up. He plays music, typically lo-fi rock. The Dirtbombs. Led Zeppelin. Sonic Youth. “I’ll listen to anything on repeat for hours, for days, it’s like a hostage situation.”
  • has multiple studios. Sometimes he’ll rent a place for a few months, just to be in a new space.
  • “As a dumb painter I don’t want to know things.” Someone in the audience asks what he means by “dumb.” He tells them that it means he wants to be surprised. He doesn’t want to be guessing at the possibilities of the work.
  • he recommends residencies. To be surrounded by knowledgeable, likeminded people.
  • he believes drawing is important. “Because I like to make things I don’t understand.”
  • he doesn’t have a hierarchy of materials. Dirt or paint, both are valuable.
  • he wonders if he was a better painter 10 – 15 years ago, when he wasn’t represented by a gallery.  He was “meaner, rougher.” He didn’t have to speculate about other people’s expectations. (Words like mean, rough, and nasty, are terms of praise throughout Lee’s talk.)
  • “The studio is where the work works.” Removing a painting from the studio and hanging it in a gallery makes it look unnatural.
  • Being in a room with paintings “is always agitating to me. I want them [his works] barely alive. I’m always trying to slow the paintings down.”
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