Oui.Gallery Interviews Frank Lee from Sweden
Introduction of the artist
Frank Lee has a first class honours degree in Set and Costume Design. Previously, as an actor, Frank was fascinated by the layer cake that overlays the protagonist’s true motivations and the ultimate outcomes. The character’s desires, fears, and emotions are always hidden below intentional and unintentional deceits. More layers are added as the other characters superimpose their prejudices and their own desires. The story nearly always fishtails in the most unexpected directions.
Where do the inspirations of your artworks mainly come from? As an artist, under what circumstances would you be eager to make art?
I would say that most of my inspiration comes from reading history. As an example, I am currently reading a book on how coal overtook wood as fuel in Britain, and how it drove the industrial revolution. I guess it is interesting economically, but what it sparks in me, is how that changes the daily life of the people at that time. My eye is always drawn more to the pain and abuse that always follows what is described as progress. Maybe one could say that my art springs from a sense of guilt. When I learn what others have been through, and whom history has forgotten, I try to explore their emotional journey with my art, the best I can.
What are the most common concepts in your artworks? Please list three of them. And why they are important to you?
Social structures and hierarchy are certainly number one. It is such a strong driver, on behalf of which we so casually kill and maim. It frustrates me that we so seldom ask why we make the choices we make, over and over again. Being born in a dysfunctional working-class family, I have had my share of cold shoulders and additional challenges because of my status, and it has, I hope, made me less judgemental, but also far less trusting. The drivers of what we do are often far darker than we care to admit, and it is uncomfortable to look at them. In its most dramatic form, we see it in genocides, when communities turn on each other, but it is also present in every aspect of our lives. It frightens me that it is so deeply rooted, perhaps even embedded in our DNA, it is so hard to eradicate.
Memory would be number two, not just because I draw my inspiration from history, but because our collective memory shapes the actions and opportunities of tomorrow. For an artist, it is a perfect playing field in which to highlight social structures, as the patterns are much clearer in retrospect. The illusion of social progression is exposed by the extreme brutality of the twentieth century. It outstrips all earlier epochs. History also presents the cyclical nature of progress, as we swing between liberal and conservative regimes. There is also naturally a juxtaposition between what is remembered and forgotten, and how two nations recall events in completely different ways. In memories, this process is present all the way down to the family unit, or even an individual. Memory is a powerful tool, it changes connections, it divides, and it withers, that is why it intrigues me.
Pain is possibly the third, not just as in physical pain, but more the inherent pain of the human condition. Pain enriches empathy and pain fades. If we can feel the pain in someone else, without our gratuitous primate instincts kicking in, it offers an escape from cycles of destruction. Pain is the secret door to progress, and that is why it always seems to make its way into my works.
In many of your artworks, everyday objects such as dining table or tableware are frequently present objects. For you, do they have any deeper connotations beyond their actual forms? How would you define the relationship between yourself and your artworks?
Their form and function are important to me, that is often a starting point, but I also see everyday objects as witnesses to human life. I am interested in the conflict within materials. Porcelain and string don’t belong together, and the tension between the soft and hard mimics much of what we discussed earlier about this duality in humans.
The relationship between myself and my artworks is a tricky one for me to see as I sit within it. Certainly, there will always be a link back to something in my own life, my being, as that is what draws me to it. It’s what makes the materials and imagery resonate for me. But I think pain is the strongest link back to me on a personal level. I had some really dark and defining years when I was growing up, and I think that is why things that are broken and reset are attractive to me. They become more, the scars are a story, just as decay has a beauty, so too does survival.
You hold a degree in Set and Costume Design. How does it influence your creation and artistic outlook?
That is a good question. When I make a Set Design, the environment must offer clues to the audience. It must facilitate the performers in telling their story. This is my approach to art. In the absence of the performers the objects hold central stage and must tell the story alone. Which object should be selected and how should it be manipulated to best tell that story? The objects are the protagonist, one could say.
If there is one, who is your favourite artist? How does he/she influence on your understanding and making of art?
I can’t say I have any specific artist that I follow, as I find inspiration is so many mediums and I so admire anyone that has cultivated a skill to perfection. Most of them are well known. To mention some though, as I just cant have one…
I am a big admirer of the whimsical paper crafts done by Daniel Agdag. The aura of past time in his work are inspiring to me. And having made scale models for the theatre, I know the skill behind his work, so seeing his pictures always makes my fingers itch.
Romilly Saumarez Smith is a Jewelry Artist that I admire, not just for the way she manages to continue making her works despite severe paralysis. Her pieces are like micro-sized sculptures and all works are created from old rugged everyday objects, such as thimbles, buttons and fork handles. She manages to give these old throwaway items new life as completely different beings.
And, of course, Li Xiaofeng’s porcelain clothes resonate strongly in me. The way the armour of porcelain clothes shift-shape, outlining the phases of change. The fact that all porcelain is found at archaeological sites makes it all the more intriguing.
As an artist, which word could better define your role in society? A prophet, dissident, intellectual, citizen, or other? And why?
I would be tempted to define myself more as an echo, a ghost. A prophet sounds way too grand! There is an irony that, in distorting the objects, I believe they can present themselves more honestly. Their past, and by extension ours, is in sharper focus. Messages returning to warn and remind us. There are inherent lies in the stories we tell ourselves, that we as a community call history, and as an individual, memories. This overt perfection and simplicity is in our everyday objects, and our everyday lives, but they bely the painful truths. The cycles of repeated mistakes can only be broken if we stare, unblinking, at who we truly are, the willing destroyer, the destroyed, the scarred, and the healed.
About the gallery
Oui. Gallery is an international gallery founded in St. Louis, Missouri in 2018. Later, Oui opened a new space in Central, Hong Kong. Oui. Gallery is devoted to cooperating with emerging artists and making innovative shows.