Spotlight on Goldsmiths #7: Grace Lee

By Sunday, October 18, 2015 0 2

Above image: Come and See (2014, 38″ x 55″, oil on canvas)

Pursuing figurative painting as a discipline in a world in which we are constantly saturated with images may be considered a risky move by some. Grace Lee, a Fine Art student at Goldsmiths, University of London, has had her mind set on a career as an artist since she was sixteen, when she began to develop her practise firstly as an animator before moving into painting. Despite the challenge presented by the sheer amount of talented artists trying to succeed in the art world, Grace considers painting to have a certain privilege. Painting is, Grace believes, easier to commodify due to it not being obstructed by limitations of space and medium, compared to sculpture, for example. But Grace’s passion for painting is driven primarily not by its ability to make money but by her pleasure in carrying out the process. The repetitive, time-consuming nature of painting, perhaps frustrating for some, is something that Grace finds calming. Taking an empty piece of board and slowing creating an image from nothing gives her a great sense of satisfaction.

Grace has little interest in technically skilled paintings that provoke little further thought. Instead, her interest has always been in psychological or philosophical ideas as a background to painting. This approach to painting is clearly evident in Grace’s work, which frequently deals with the theme of the uncanny. Her conception of the uncanny has been inspired by Sigmund Freud’s text, Das Unheimliche, and the films of David Lynch, particularly Eraserhead and Lost Highway.

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Above image: Long Live the King (2015, 8″ x 10″, oil on canvas)

An artist Grace cites as a major inspiration is Nicola Samori, whose focus on the materiality of paint has had a profound effect on the way Grace thinks about it as a medium. Samori uses the physical nature of paint to show destruction over time. Another favourite artist for Grace is Adrian Ghenie, whose painterly brushstrokes also demonstrate a focus on materiality. The influence of both artists can be seen in Grace’s painting, Long Live the King, which draws our focus to the texture of the paint with a few subtle strokes that distort the features of the face.


Above image: Incarnation (2015, 12″ x 8″, oil on board)

In Incarnation, the sense of the uncanny is evoked through the mystery of the empty cage. Grace composed the image by combining an imagined background with an archive image of workers at London Zoo, omitting an animal that appeared in the cage in the original image. This process of appropriating archive images into a reimagined scene is a common theme in Grace’s practise. The idea of taking part of an image and re-contextualising it stems from Grace’s interest in the concept of time – her subjects embody fragments of memories.

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Above image: Casson Pavilion (2015, 10″ x 8″, oil on board)

Casson Pavilion also utilizes an archive image from London Zoo. Grace is fascinated by the haunting quality of the Zoo’s architecture: to her it has the feeling of somewhere long abandoned, yet it still functions. In this painting Grace notes that the Indian elephants are juxtaposed against a very British-looking building.

Time and memory are addressed perhaps even more explicitly in Come and See, in which Grace has brought together archive images from a range of different time periods. The bringing together of these figures in a single scene addresses the notion of non-linear time. Despite the size of the various figures being distorted, the careful composition of the image allows them to inhabit the space harmoniously.

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Above image: Waiting at the County Fair (The Visitor) (2015, 8″ x 16″, oil on board)

Waiting at the County Fair (The Visitor) also combines a selection of archive images, arranged in such a way that they hint at a narrative, although a subjective one. Grace has left the question of whether the subjects can see each other, or the giant figure looming over them, unanswered, preferring to leave an element of ambiguity in her work.

Keep up with Grace’s projects at

(All images featured are the intellectual property of Grace Lee)

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