Contemporary realism art - Jong Lee,
Jong Lee, "Red," 2017, oil on panel, 20 x 16 in., available from the artist

There is a lot of superb contemporary realism being made these days; this article by Allison Malafronte shines light on a gifted individual.

When a portrait is painted well, it is sometimes difficult to see beyond the surface beauty. In the case of California artist Jong Lee (b. 1972), however, not only are his likenesses aesthetically pleasing, they are also layered with thoughtfulness and intention. Take “Red,” for example, which is striking in its visual elegance and carries the gravitas of an unseen story as well.

“I wanted to juxtapose the dynamic nature of the overall composition with the subject’s calm, contemplative expression,” Lee explains. “The figure’s sweeping diagonal movement creates an illusion that her body is in motion, yet her serenity suggests she is fixated on meandering thoughts. It’s a symbolic representation of the duality in all of us. This contrast — even contradiction — between what is real and what is not, in art and life, is often the underlying statement in my paintings.”

Lee learned to paint and imbue his work with subtle meaning primarily through his own research and practice, which he complemented by studying with several artists, including Steven Assael, Jeremy Lipking, and Joseph Todorovitch. Now he paints figures and portraits as a way to understand the unique psyche of each person who sits for him, as well as the human condition common to us all.

Lee’s medium of choice is oil, as he feels it is optimal for juxtaposing, mixing, and arranging lights and darks. He favors realism with an emphasis on the fundamentals of drawing, values, and color. “I characterize my work as ‘realism with a modern sensibility,’” he says. “I have a strong inclination toward 19th-century French naturalism in particular, but rather than recreating the past, I paint my own interpretation of what is real for me today.”

For each new painting, Lee develops a customized process based on that subject’s characteristics, as well as on his own goals. “I want to make a unique artistic statement, and with that comes fresh challenges,” the artist observes. “The beginning stage is the most challenging, but also the most rewarding because it forces me to harness all my creativity to find a solution for what I want to express.”

At the outset, Lee also has goals in mind for the viewer. “Every painting is an invitation to immerse oneself in another space and time — a dreamlike experience as unique as each viewer’s life and personality.”

Visit Jong Lee’s website:

This article was originally published in Fine Art Connoisseur magazine (subscribe here).

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