In contrast to the “fake” diamonds used to produce Fugazi (2016), the gems pictured in Captives/Adamas (2020) are genuine diamonds of high quality and price. In these photographs, however, the diamonds appear in an unfamiliar form—they are uncut. Through extensive focus and exposure stacking—a macro-photography technique where limited depth-of-field requires areas of exposure and focus to be composited together—Lee captures these otherworldly rough gems as objects of great value that have yet to come into existence. This idea of the “yet-to-emerge” is reflected in the first half of the title, Captives, which refers to Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures, where partially carved figures emerge from rough, untouched marble. The second half points to the Greek origin of the word “diamond”: Adamas, meaning “invincible, indestructible and unyielding.” The duality produced by these two seemingly disparate words suggests the paradoxical values we hold in contemporary culture: captive, yet emergent; indestructible, yet unformed—manifesting in cultural obsessions with eternal youth and power. (Kate Henderson)
The City of Richmond invited me to mentor emerging Richmond Artists Crystal Ho and Chad Wong to produce public artworks on the theme of Migration. I wanted to try something a little different and work with text and language. My project, Double Meaningless, 2018 is a response to the ongoing debate in Richmond over signage and English language requirements.
Polish Paintings (2021) continues Lee’s trajectory of experimental paintings made using nontraditional materials. Common household shoe polish, a waxy substance that produces an effect similar to oil[Office1] paint, here creates a series of glossy veneers that reference the high status of the “black square monochrome painting” during the modern art era of the 1950s and ’60s. Such historical paintings continue to fetch millions of dollars at auction, and Lee urges us to consider the value we place on objects and artworks through these substitutes that reference the occupation of shoe shiners and the classism inherent in the economy of artistic production. (Kate Henderson)
In 2006, Evan Lee created a series of works entitled Dollar Store Still Life that depicted cheaply manufactured goods purchased at a dollar store but presented in the style of traditional Dutch and Flemish still life genre paintings. Historically, these still life paintings were intended to showcase an individual or family’s wealth, capturing their most valuable possessions. They were also considered allegories of time, depicting rotting fruit and flowers and presenting moral lessons about vanity, the pursuit of worldly goods, and the certainty of death. Lee’s 2006 still lifes composed of inexpensive consumer commodities questioned contemporary values placed on popular goods, as well as the economy of overseas manufacture and import.
The term Hyakkin refers to a “100 yen store” in Japan. For the revisiting of this series, Lee composed still lifes using only items from Daiso, a Japanese dollar store located in Richmond. Returning to the series 10 years later asks us to consider changes in the economic and geopolitical state of our consumer culture: do these Asian goods change our expectations of a still life? What is the value of a dollar one decade later? Lee’s series continues his discourse on contemporary values as they relate to consumer goods, and asks us to reflect on the economic and demographic changes that have occurred over the past decade.
In Ichiban, the artist mixes paint and instant ramen noodles with other found objects to create experimental sculptures that consider the artificial nature of “instant” food, as well as reflecting on ephemeral form and temporality in the artworks themselves. Like the companion work, Fugazi, Ichiban alludes to the complex relationship between that which is “real” and that which is “artificial” in our contemporary culture and art. Lee’s project reflects on his earlier works, such as the Dollar Store Still Life series (2006), which also examined the economic and cultural values of fake and artificial consumer goods
installation photo by Chris Rollett
Fugazi consists of 5-by-5 foot prints created from digital scans of cubic zirconia, relatively inexpensive but high quality imitations of diamonds. A “Fugazi“ is a slang term used in Mafia films for a counterfeit diamond. The images are captured at a high level of detail and are enlarged fifteen thousand percent to a scale that renders the gems’ internal appearance as mesmerizingly random, distorted and fractured, while the effects of digital image-loss and artifacting emerge to aid in their visual transformation. The patterns of abstract shapes and reflected colours appear kaleidoscopic and at times groundless, an aesthetic that Lee manipulates further by constructing geometric backgrounds in response to the resulting visual space.
Fugazi also continues the artist’s interest in psychedelia, illusion and optics, as explored in such earlier works as Every Part from a Contaflex Camera… (2006); Stain (2003); and Phoropter (2012). Contrary to the reproducible nature of photography, each of the Fugazi prints, made on fine art paper, exists only as a signed unique edition of one.
Untitled Migrant Ship Re-creation Project, 2009 – present, (in progress)
An ongoing archive of material generated from this in-progress project, including sketches, 3D renders, work documentation, installation views, research, and other related ephemera.
In 2009, the artist began a re-creation of a press image depicting the arrival of the Sri Lankan migrant ship, the MV Ocean Lady at the west coast of Canada. This work was realized in many different forms, but most notably as a 3D re-creation and 3D printed models. In addition to photographs, drawings, paintings and other works, there is a web archive of this project.
It is with this project that the artist began looking at how migration has been depicted in media and in history. This subject concerns the complexities and challenges of immigration and its history in Canada, some of which were experienced directly by the artist’s family and friends.
At the moment, numerous people from Africa and the Middle East are attempting to reach Europe by sea. Many Europeans view this as problematic, leading to a strong rise in nationalism and anti-immigration rhetoric and policy. These attitudes also exist closer to home: in 2009 and 2010, two ships arrived at the coast of BC carrying Tamil asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka. Canadian authorities seized these ships and detained their crew and passengers. There has been massive public debate and speculation over the legality of their refugee claims and the practice of human smuggling, and a climate of xenophobia has developed amidst accusations of immigration “queue-jumping” and fears of terrorism. This has been echoed many times in Canada’s history by the arrival of: Fujianese migrants in 1999, Jewish Europeans on the MS St. Louis in 1939 and Sikhs on the SS Komagata Maru in 1914. And it is difficult to separate this history from that of slavery and colonialization.
Migrant Portraits, 2013-2014, Oil on Canvas
Beginning in 2009, the artist began looking critically at found media and historical images, particularly those depicting protest and migration, with the intention of recreating, transforming, and expanding them through interdisciplinary forms such as sculpture, mixed media, and paintings. Staring with the project, Migrant Ship Re-Creation, this also took the form of several related projects: Migrant Portraits, Black Bloc (Black Blot), Black Bloc Abstraction (Diptych), Burning Flag (after Jyllands-Posten)
In contrast to popular, ubiquitous images of revolution and provocation (such as Alberto Korda’s portrait of Che Guevara, or the graffiti works of Banksy), the found press images that artist refers to are markedly non-iconic, from nameless and faceless Black Bloc protesters to migrants whose identities have been obscured by the press. Lee approaches these images from a perspective of speculation, creating artworks that either reconstruct or further obscure the subjects. This dual process amplifies the missing details and facts that are not included in the original press images or their accompanying news stories, pointing to an inherent confusion or lack of clarity surrounding the actual events.
These works include large-scale black and white paintings where silhouettes of marching Black Bloc protesters have been repeated in a motif that borders on abstraction; earth-toned, classical style oil portraits of the same migrants created in composite from blurry or pixelated press images and online searches; and a video that recreates the burning of a Danish flag, which was originally enacted by protesters in response to anti-Muslim cartoons that were published in Denmark. The works engage in a dialogue with news media images of protest, the interpretation of these images, their bias and their influence.