Austin Lee

“And at the same time, walking around these massive, airbrush-heavy paintings does feel good. They have a vivid, graphic simplicity, despite the high-tech road that Lee takes to arrive at them. While the artist was, for years, mocking up his compositions in Photoshop, he’s since adopted an entirely new way of working, using the Oculus Rift’s virtual-reality program Medium as a sort of imaginary studio.  

After donning the Oculus headset, Lee labors in a purely virtual space—a “blue void” that “feels infinite,” he says. “I can draw in space, very gestural. You just press a button and it’s almost like extruding paint tubes.” The process isn’t always easy. “I’ll sit and use [the Oculus] four or five hours at a time,” he explains. “I’ll take it off and feel crazy. I really like it—but it does make me nauseous.” The resulting V.R. drawings are then turned into paintings—or sculptures.”  Scott Indrisek, Garage, 2019.

Las Vegas born, Austin Lee (b. 1983) is an American artist based in New York. Lee developed a distinctive style of colourful paintings which hovers between physical and digital realities. He combines digital technologies with airbrush and paintbrush techniques to create uncanny and humorous figures, fusing Pop Art, Surrealism and Abstraction. 

Describing himself as “a computer nerd as well as an artist”, Austin Lee explores the intersections of technology and reality.  Lee illustrates the experience of the digital screen through the physical mediums of painting and sculpture. Inspired by mundane events and aesthetics, many of his works evoke the emojis and digital idioms that have become part of our daily visual vocabulary.  “I try to mix the best of the digital and the physical, because I think both do things well in different ways”, Austin says (in conversation with Kristen Tauer, WWD Magazine, 2019).

Lee’s creative process entails producing the artwork initially in virtual reality and later materialising it as paintings, sculptures and installations. His whimsical paintings are based on digital sketches and then painted on canvas with airbrush and paintbrush. The result are animated figures depicted with simple forms, vivid primary colours and flattened spatial depth. These surreal bodies seem to weightlessly burst out of the two dimensional canvas towards a three dimensional cartoon-like domain.  

Born in Las Vegas in 1983, Austin Lee received his MFA from Yale in 2013. He currently lives and works in New York City. 

Austin Lee has presented solo exhibitions at Carl Kostyál, London and Stockholm; Deitch Projects, New York; Kaikai Kiki, Tokyo; BANK, Shanghai; Mine Project, Hong Kong; and New Galerie, Paris. He has featured internationally in group shows at Peres Projects, Berlin; Deitch Projects, New York and M Woods Museum, Beijing. In January 2022, M Woods Museum in Beijing will host Austin Lee’s first museum solo show, ‘Human Nature’.

Carl Kostyál has presented Austin Lee’s works in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including his debut solo show ‘Mixed Feelings’ at Carl Kostyál Gallery, London in 2014; No Fair, Isbrytaren, Stockholm (2015); ’MeArt’, Kaleidoscope, Milan (2015); ‘Anxiety’, New Galerie, Paris (2016); ‘Pretty Pictures’, UTA Artist Space, Los Angeles (2016); Alight’, Maison Assouline, London (2017);Constant Joy’, Besiktas, Istanbul (2018); and ‘Paradise’, Spazio Maiocchi, Milan (2019). On this occasion, Carl Kostyál published the book “Austin Lee, 2012-2019” with KALEIDOSCOPE, Milan. Austin Lee has also collaborated with Carl Kostyál in the production of several editions of artist prints.

Austin Lee’s works are housed in important private and public collection including Moderna Museet, Stockholm.