Following on from the success of ‘Visitations’ at 9 Club Row Project, Timothy Lee’s exhibition ‘Nihilphilia’ is soon to open at the Cock ‘n’ Bull Gallery at Tramshed in Shoreditch.
Since graduating from Leeds University, Lee has already exhibited widely in London, Singapore, Toronto, and Amsterdam and gained his first US solo show in New York’s Gallery Nine 5. This new series of works, entitled ‘Nihilphilia’ – literally translated as “a love of nothing” – distorts the traditional historic portraiture and still life. Lee has made a series of new paintings that further explore his interest in combining intense themes with fragile materials.
At first glance, the subjects of Lee’s highly contrasting, almost monochrome paintings appear to be disfigured portraits and delicately decaying still lifes. However, each composition is in fact constructed from memory alone, and attempts to create a balance between extreme polarities such as life and death, beauty and decay. Prior to the opening of the exhibition we asked Timothy about his practice and these series of works:
You use rice paper and ink. What significance do these traditional materials have to your work?
I’m not bound by tradition by any means. I think my work clearly states that. I’m paying homage to the past and also rejecting its values.
Your ‘portrait’ works are both not a portrait and a portrait. What brought you to this series of works?
I’ve always switched between painting figures and still life; it offers some respite from going over repeated territory. The approach has always been the same; I’m still trying to illicit a sensation from my work rather than to depict actual people or objects. I’ve never been a fan of realism or direct representation – I think it’s a fruitless endeavour to try to capture a subject’s true likeness.
Do you consider both your portrait works and the still life pieces as memento mori?
I wouldn’t say my works are memento mori-like, but if I had to summarise them then I suppose it is the closest term. It sits uneasily with me because it points too directly at death. For me, I consider them to be about the dichotomy of life and death existing at the same time rather than a reminder of mortality.
I’m interested in the act of making art as much as anything else. I know there’ll never be an answer as to why humans feel a need to create and that kind of has a sense of empty inevitability and futileness to it. My works are about everything and nothing simultaneously; co-existing like visual white noise.
The portrait works include what appear to be recognisable details from Old Masters – medieval headwear, a cardinal’s hat. What drew you to this period of portraiture?
It’s not really about the period or costume for me. I’m more concerned with the ‘Human’ that’s within the painting. I’m fond of the tones and visual tropes involved in, say, Flemish paintings, but on the other hand my work stems more from my dislike of staged court paintings and idol worship.
You paint the still life works from memory. What is the significance of this to your practice?
As I mentioned earlier I’m not a big fan of direct representation. There has to be some sensation in the work for it to resonate with me; I think a painting from a memory of flowers for example, will always give a more accurate and honest depiction of them than a like-for-like rendition.
I think art is much more potent when it has been filtered through someone’s experience, regardless if they make ‘sense’ or not.
Timothy Lee ‘Nihilphilia’
14 March – 10 April 2014
Cock ‘n’ Bull Gallery
32 Rivington Street
London EC2A 3LX