Resident Artist Alice Lee Tells Art Quench Her Story
“My parents were immigrants from Vietnam and Hong Kong and moved to California with my two older sisters in 1980. I was born in 1982 and raised in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the second largest Chinese community in the US. Going to school where it was all English speaking then coming home to where it was Chinese only was challenging. I remember my mother yelling me all the time saying, “I don’t know what you’re saying. You’re Chinese and you need to speak Chinese.” I vividly recall the frustration I felt when I couldn’t get the words out, crying because I couldn’t form the sentences half as well as I could articulate myself in English. So, as I got older, I talked to her less and less. I would have to say that rift in verbal communication was the beginning of the turbulent relationship I have with my mother to this day.
We never really bonded when I was little and I spent a lot of time observing and asking questions. When my dad wasn’t putting food on the table, he’d try to answer all my curious inquiries, sometimes making up stuff as he went along. After college, I realized that when he gave “explanations” that were plausible to a 10 year old, it allowed me to create non-sensical art without having to be reasonable. If I wanted “Henri” to be an insomniac balloon, that’s what he will be. The beauty is that my art is and can be ridiculous if I wanted it to be.
I had always been interested in art but I didn’t start creating work until after college. I went to school for Graphic Design, which I was awful at because I couldn’t draw well, and Interior Design, which I gave up on because I’m terrible at business and sales. Luckily, a client of mine was a high school English teacher and turned me on onto the path of becoming a teacher. Since art was the closest thing to design and I was always interested in art, I decided to take a few community college classes so that I would be proficient enough to teach art and art history. From there, I discovered my love of painting and mixed media and have been producing work for the past 6 years while teaching high school.
My dad always told me that in order to thrive, you must be able to adapt. For me, adapting is synthesizing many aspects of your life; understanding how the events, people, and experiences form connections. My work is about showing these connections. How I dealt with conflicts in my closest relationships are often subjects of exploration in my work. Some of my paintings have intense obliteration themes that process a side of me, emotion, or memory that would otherwise be too poisonous not to express. At the opposite end of my work are lighter, comical, and sometimes abstracted representations of the world I live in. It is world of interacting energies, objects, and personalities shown through color, texture, and layers.”
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