Out/About: Rhys Lee ‘Jungle Rum Rumble’
Masks have long been the fascination of many, the idea that you can cover your face and instantly become someone or something else is both liberating and somewhat unnerving. Victorian-based Rhys Lee’s work induces a similar response by seducing the viewer with colour and playful compositions and yet there is a decidedly sinister quality to his paintings’ inhabitants, with their mask-like faces, that can’t help but unsettle.
‘Jungle Rum Rumble’ is the title of both the exhibition (at Brisbane’s Jan Murphy Gallery) and all the paintings in this show, and as Lee explains they pay homage to earlier work with thoughts of “jungle, ocean, heat, dance, pirate, native, fire, voodoo, rum, fever.” Through these words we have a small window into Lee’s motivators but far from visions of witchdoctors and tribal ritual we have the artist himself and his spontaneous outpourings that form without prior intent. As Lee’s explains: “It’s always about my headspace, so that all this internal stuff is coming out in the shape of a head.”
While these very large canvases are on the precipice of abstraction Lee directs the audience’s view back into the figurative world with the use of the body and most importantly the face, always repeated and in a myriad of guises. Whether it is the stifling heat of the jungle or the sugar induced frenzy of a suburban fairground that provokes Lee these paintings have a demanding graphic presence. ‘Jungle Rum Rumble 2’ we see two gyrating figures, adorned in feathers and pink tutus while in ‘Jungle Rum Rumble 1’ faces with clown make-up hover, dislocated from the candy-pink body below.
Lee practiced as a graffiti artist from his teens into his twenties and no doubt the urgency that he approaches this more conventional artform has its genesis here. Similarly his choice of palette and application of paint also echo the marks and colour that come from an aerosol can. While the works have a freshness that shows that he knows when to stop, the paintings when completed take time to unfold for their meanings are deliberately mysterious, enigmatic yet captivating.
Rhys Lee ‘Jungle Rum Rumble’
Jan Murphy Gallery
486 Brunswick Street
Fortitude Valley QLD 4006
Tues – Sat 10am-5pm
Or by appointment only
22 March – 16 April 2016