Eddy Lee is hands-down one of my favorite living artists. And I’m not only saying that because he painted a portrait of me with coffee. I loved his work way before he painted me after he saw my selfie on Instagram.
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Eddy’s artwork is incredibly distinct and instantly recognizable. He paints women, all kinds of beautiful women, with acrylics on birch panel. He also paints portraits with mix media using coffee stains, ballpoint pen and acrylic.
Eddy’s portraits are visually piercing and emotionally provocative. His graceful feminine figures invoke a sense of longing and awe, alluding to seductive and mysterious women you may have been in love with at some point in the past.
It’s no surprise that his unique work has garnered a substantial following in the L.A. arts community. You can find him selling his prints and canvases at many conventions, art events, night markets and the Venice Boardwalk.
Eddy and I met and became instant friends, and he was nice enough to tell us about his growing art career, his inspirations and goals for his artwork in the future.
How’d you get to where you are today?
I moved here from Seattle where I’m originally from in the winter of 2012. I was kind of in that transition point in life. I was doing art on the side up there but it was just for supplemental income, something as just a hobby. And then long story short a lot of life events happened and it just accelerated this process of making this decision, like what do you want to do with life? So I just packed up all my shit and said ‘Hey I’m just gonna go down to L.A., roll the dice.’ It was a calculated risk. I had savings, I had somewhat of a following. I knew that I was selling work up there so that’s the thing that I felt gave me that confidence that maybe I had a chance down here, because L.A. is a much different market.
I remember a couple of months later, I knocked out some paintings and set up shop on the Venice Board Walk. That’s kind of a mind-fuck because I wasn’t a year removed from being married, having a 9-5 corporate job, was domesticated, had a townhouse and all that. And then the next thing I know I’m selling art on the boardwalk next to crackheads. It was a very strange thing and it was definitely rough the following year and a half but I think through having that experience, you learn the hustle.
When did people start to recognize your work?
I think I was fortunate enough that in that first summer a lot of the locals really responded to what I was doing. Because in their eyes it was different from what a lot of the other artists were doing. Venice is a big draw not just for tourists, but also locals and people from the industry. They got a free weekend, they’re gonna come out to hang out in Venice Beach. So I met a lot of people in the industry here in L.A.: film, fashion, music. And they put me onto a lot of side projects and other events and that was the genesis of a lot of what I do now.
What inspired to get into art?
What inspired me to get back into art was when I picked up Juxtapoz, Hi-Fructose magazines, like in mid-2000s-2007, and I’d see art that was very relatable to me. It wasn’t the art in sort of that East Coast New York, very conceptual, academic high-brow kind of way. But you saw this art that was very illustrative. Street art was starting to establish itself at the time. I felt like I never really fit in the high-brow stuff but it was cool. There are now illustrators, tattoo artists, animators who are doing fine art and that sort of style was very much in line with the work that I’d always wanted to do. Now it’s something that’s viable. People buy stuff like this now.
Two artists in particular really made me feel something when I saw their work. They were very instrumental in me doing art again. There was Audrey Kawasaki and another art hero of mine is this guy, David Choe. Two very different styles but they cater to my aesthetic sensibilities. Audrey is very understated, really clean, graphical illustrated lines in the wood. The wood was something else. I’d never seen anything like that. And then David is just raw energy with really no rules. Obviously the guy knew how to execute art in a very technical way. But you see this work and you know this guy knows how to do it but he doesn’t care. He’s just doing it his own way. And this weird sort of chaos just comes together. I think those two contrasting styles I was really drawn to and they’re embedded in a lot of what I do today.
What type of art do you do?
It’s very mood driven. You flip through these fashion magazines and you see these mystery women. They sort of look into the camera and there’s a lot of mystery there. And I’ve always wondered what is in that headspace. Is there damage? There’s an element of seductiveness or maybe she’s vulnerable, maybe she’s lost. And I always found that gaze fascinating. It moves you in a certain kind of way and when I approach paintings that’s a feeling that I want to get.
What inspires your artwork?
It’s definitely the mood and the mystery. A lot of art is so subjective and different people get different things out of art. But one thing that I think is universally accessible is that raw human emotion when you make eye contact. These women that I paint, they’re little capsules of time of somebody that you had met. You might not know who this woman is or who this individual is. Maybe I’m crossing the street in a busy metropolitan city and I happen to make eye contact. And that fleeting glance, that moment is such a powerful thing. You may never see that person again but in that moment it sort of sears itself into your psyche. That’s what I find really fascinating and it definitely inspires a lot of what I do.
What type of women do you tend to paint?
Before there was a very clear racial identity. Like that’s an Asian woman or that’s a black woman or she’s white. I think now things have become a lot more ambiguous because to me the overriding factor in all the women that I paint is focused on the mood. Everything else that’s built around it like hair, skin and ethnicity has become irrelevant. The mood is really what drives the piece. The goal is that the viewer feel something when they see that. This woman is looking right at me and I know that I’ve been in this place before.
Where do you hope your art will take you?
L.A. is a great art market and it’s definitely helped me establish myself but by the sheer virtue of what I do, I can literally pick up and do art anywhere around the world. My more immediate to short-term goal is to paint in Europe. Maybe spend a brief stint doing that. Because everything is in such close proximity. I’d love to do rounds just off my artwork.
Find Eddy Lee at these upcoming events and conventions:
October 7, 2016 – Las Vegas First Friday Artwalk
October 15, 2016 – “Don’t Quit Your Daydream” Group Show, Santa Ana
October 28-30, 2016 – Stan Lee’s Comicon, L.A. Convention Center
November 19-20, 2016 – Designercon, Pasadena
Photos: Nadia Cho