Of A Great and Mighty Shadow is Melbourne (Australia) based painter Adam Lee’s solo show debut in Canada, and his paintings are beautifully solemn. Brushed with shades of black and accents of orange, blue, and yellow, Lee’s works possess an eye-catching medley of watercolour-like washes with occasional intricate details (think Peter Doig but with an Australian twist). Interested in the idea of shadows and how they cast over the histories and lives of people, Lee’s paintings tap into imagery from his own family history to bring light to the shadows—and in the process, he creates links between the past, the present, and the future.
The show opens with the colour-splashed painting “The Namesake,” depicting a double portrait of the artist and his late grandfather of the same name. The two faces are turned away from each other, staring into shadows of black and washes of colours. Representing the theme of looking back and looking ahead, this introspective and autobiographical portrait is a precursor of what’s to come.
Moving forward throughout the show, it’s clear that Lee not only wants to create links between the past, present, and future, but does so through mobilizing the concept of death. For instance, the painting “Of A Great and Mighty Shadow” portrays a funeral-embalming scene, an instance where two worlds—the physical present and the anticipated divine future—meet.
Likewise, “Threshold” depicts the front gate of Lee’s father’s childhood home, symbolizing a point between past and present (the death of the past, the mundane of the present). Then there’s the piece “The Great Cloud,” featuring six ominous orange faces that resemble the Grim Reaper himself (dead bodies of the past, ghostly spirits of the present?), looming in and out of a black cloud of paint.
Adam Lee, Threshold, 2016, oil and synthetic polymer paint on paper, 41″ x 30″ (left) and The Great Cloud, 2016, oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 43″ x 29″ (right). Image courtesy of Angell Gallery
Lee’s paintings highlight loss—the loss of life, the loss of the past. The dark and gloom-ridden atmosphere that his works generate greatly complements the overarching shadow that Lee seeks to emulate, to explore. Surrounded by ominous paintings with titles like “Mourner,” “Altar,” and “All the Tears and All the Seed,” the viewers easily find themselves walking through a sea of darkness, a solemn space.
But thus, there is light. The show’s centerpiece work, “Zim Zum (Three Tabernacles),” depicts a family of three (with mom clad in Blundstones) standing underneath an overarching rainbow. Though debilitated in form—represented by three scraggly thin bands—this rainbow, however sad, generates light in a show of darkness. Placed at the center of gallery, the rainbow of “Zim Zum” seems to persistently glow among a sea of dark works. Symbolically, this is exactly what Lee needed to drive his concept home—this light that emerges from the shadows literally signifies an arch or bridge linking the past and present; the past and the future.
*Exhibition information: June 3 – July 2, 2016. Angell Gallery, 1444 Dupont St., Unit 15, Toronto. Gallery hours: Wednesday – Saturday, 12 – 5 pm.