Together Without You: An Interview with Cary Lee
Cary Lee’s poetic beautifully-rendered drawings explore desire, identity and the struggle to understand and hold on to the ephemeral. His new show Together Without You will be on display at The Harbor House Gallery, Kingsbridge, Devon, from November 19th to 24th.
One of the aspects of your work I’ve always admired is the off-kilter framing. The subject of the painting is often on the edges of the image, as if caught in passing, so that the space around the subject becomes a statement in itself. In relation to your past work, the drawings in this new show are powerfully centered within the circle. Was this a conscious choice? It almost feels like a comment on the work that came before it.
In past works I wanted to take the viewer out of the field as well as underscore the importance of space for me, and the transitory nature of life. In these more contemporary pieces I felt a greater need to focus on developing acceptance, and of making what I felt like was a lurch towards finding intimacy and love.
In this show I wanted to bring the gaze right into the centre of the field. I felt myself wanting to confront the viewer more. I wanted to make a more conscious and assertive statement about my existence, and my commitment to finding love. Space and distance is still an important theme, reflecting the need for this in my personal life, but these drawings reflect more challenging questions such as: where does intimacy fit in amongst all of this space? Why can’t I touch it….why can’t I have both?
I’m curious about the meaning of the seemingly every day objects in the pictures—plugs, phone chargers, magnets, mousetraps. Is there a narrative significance to them? Are they symbolic in some way? They are certainly effective in engaging the viewer with questions.
I’m a very sentimental person. I’ve always had strong connections to everyday objects; they are like souvenirs and artefacts from challenging times and past lives. I seem to form attachments to them; they are like friends to me.
There is also a possible element of desire with them too. At immensely difficult times I have looked towards them and felt envy at their constitution; at their obvious ability to not hold emotions and to be impervious to pain.
In this show I have purposely introduced objects such as mousetraps, magnets and chargers to symbolize some of the conflicting emotions and experiences when trying to a find meeting point amongst conflicting states such as love and pain, attraction and rejection, connection and isolation, acceptance and letting go.
Similarly the plastic bags are intriguing. Do they protect the object? Make it easier to carry away? Set it apart on its own?
The slick and glossy reflections in plastics and metals could be enough of a subject on their own to draw, however it is unlike me to just stop there. I often want to go deeper, to look through and beyond the reflection. I’m drawn to the contrast of the sheen of a manufactured cover, over the earthier and organic surfaces of flowers, which creates a layered picture that contains contradictions as well as textural and psychological tensions.
I wanted to play with the concept of what is protecting me from harm, in terms of our intimate/sexual relationships and the search for love, is possibly preventing me from finding intimacy. The plastic baggies in my drawings represent the illusion of the objects inside them being able to touch and of being close, but ultimately being unable to connect due to the casing surrounding them.
On a more superficial and purely visual note, glamour and fashion is very important to me. Clothing in particular has allowed me to not just express myself, but it also offers the possibility of holding and concealing the real self, or it can hide the negative emotions which sit restlessly below the surface.
The drawings almost feel like a puzzle to solve or a language to decipher. They work beautifully together as a show. Did you conceive of them in relation to each other?
I consider myself an emerging artist and as such my visual language is emerging too. I’m developing a greater understanding of the symbols and icons that represent the feelings and concepts that I grapple with in my life. As an art student in my early twenties I found that I had this wonderful skill to be able to draw well, however, I couldn’t express what I wanted to say. I’m grateful now that I can unite the two; that I can merge glamour with a narrative that allows me to speak, to heal and to be seen.
Something which has stayed with me since my time at art school is the importance of having a body of work which all relates to each other in some way, either by the theme, the material or the objects. I guess this underscores my need to have a connection, something that ties us together, in spite of the space between us.
Many of the objects—wreaths, flowers—could be celebratory or mournful, and the light in the images is similarly moody. I love the balance of light and dark. Also the balance of fragility—eggshells & flower petals—with the strength of the composition and the sense that these fragile items are preserved through art. Can you talk a bit about balance and tone?
Together Without You is about celebrating the challenge of trying to hold two opposing statuses together at the same time. These drawings are a dream whereby I have brought together the suffering and the hope, the darkness and the light, to touch, to caress and to dance and find a way of existing together.
In my life I have generally compartmentalized experiences and emotions. I have practiced all or nothing, as opposed to all and nothing. The greatest challenges for me have been conflating my femininity with my male sex, maintaining intimacy whilst upholding distance, how to honor vulnerability and fragility but present as strong and powerful, and of being single but being happy. More recently, following the suicide of a close family member I found myself asking the question: how do I live with this; how do I accept this darkness into my life?
I’m not suggesting that I have decompartmentalized emotions and I have created unity and peace within these oppositional elements. Instead, I’m hoping that my drawings are a fantasy of harmony and balance for me to aspire to; a future place where they can all exist together.