Mike Lee

Between simplicity and detail

Mike was born in Placentia, California and is currently based in New York City. He majored in Digital Media at Otis College of Art and Design and graduated in 2006.  Fortunate enough to find a job in his field right out of school, Mike has been working in the feature film and commercial illustration industry for almost ten years now.  In that time He has been involved in exciting professional projects, but always felt a need to create his own personal artwork. The result is a fantastic blend of detail, simplicity, precise planning and dream-like scenarios.

Through collaboration with like-minded artists and friends in the industry, he began to explore what it was exactly I wanted to make. Mike is currently one fourth of the RVMP (rēˈvamp) group, an exciting collective of talents who is to be working on a variety of projects throughout America this summer. Some of Mike’s personal work will be exposed at the Contempo #Artshop at the Honolulu Museum of Art during the last weeks of June.

To me, simplifying is keeping only what is necessary and discarding the rest

What inspired you to nurture this very particular style of yours? your approach to detail and choice of B&W tonalities is unique, creating an almost dream-like texture to your work..!

In my drawings, I try to balance simplicity and detail.  I reduce my subjects to their most basic forms, but render them with the same amount of precision and realism as in a traditional life drawing.  As for my choice of medium, I turned back to the basics of pencil on paper.  The minimal pallet and meditative quality of the process probably account for the dream-like quality you mentioned.  It’s also a departure from the vivid and saturated digital work I’m often engaged in.

I reduce my subjects to their most basic forms, but render them with the same amount of precision and realism as in a traditional life drawing

Your sketching techniques, especially in doing portraits, almost reminds me of impressionist art. are there any particular artists that inspire you?

My influences are pretty varied, but among my current favorite artists are Yoshitomo Nara, Marcel Dzama, Margaret Kilgalllen, Os Gemeos, Justin Mortimer, Vincent Desidario, Geoff McFetridge and Chris Ware.

The scenarios that you represent seem to be very studied. How do you plan a drawing and what inspires you to choose such particular scenes and environments?

My work is inspired by the people and spaces around me in everyday life.  I’ve drawn scenes from my neighborhood bodega, the courtroom I served jury duty in, the homes and lives of friends.  Each drawing involves intense planning, starting with a rough sketch, then a tight line drawing and a full lighting study.  Only after I’m satisfied with the composition will I begin the final art.

Each drawing involves intense planning, starting with a rough sketch, then a tight line drawing and a full lighting study.  Only after I’m satisfied with the composition will I begin the final art

There is a great attention towards the choice of spaces and architectural characteristics in the drawings, a very selective choice of the space to include in, and exclude from the drawing. could you expand on this?

I do my best to create a strong focus in every piece.  In my art, the silhouette becomes one of the most crucial aspects in creating a bold initial read.  I use the negative spaces created by doorways, windows, stairwells, or any structural element to frame the scene.

How would you describe your subject matter, what do the stylized characters in your drawings represent?

Many of the artists I admire are able to convey unique and inspiring ideas using the simplest lines and shapes. I do my best to maintain this minimalist mindset. So to me, simplifying is keeping only what is necessary and discarding the rest.

In my art, the silhouette becomes one of the most crucial aspects in creating a bold initial read

We are amazed by the talent at the RVMP collective, how did this project come about? 
RVMP (rēˈvamp) is a group that includes me and three other artists: Robert Mackenzie, Vincent Nguyen and Peter Nguyen.  Between the four of us, we have worked in almost every aspect of the design industry, from feature films, children’s books, editorial and commercial illustration to comics.  Having similar ambitions and attitudes about art, we decided to create this collective.  Now any chance we can, we collaborate together on group projects and support each other in our personal artwork.

How do you feel about the current self-promotion platforms such as social media? We have actually come across your work through Tumblr and Instagram, and would love to know your perspective on the subject.

I struggled with this for quite some time, and only in this past year have I come to embrace the social-media aspect of the art world.  Especially for hermits like myself, I found instagram to be one of the best ways to discover and connect with artists globally. Now I feel it is a necessity for any artist that wants to get their work out into the world.

Do you have any up and coming projects for the near future?

Yes, I do have a few upcoming projects.  I’ll have a couple of drawings at the Honolulu Museum of Art for the Contempo #Artshop this summer, and on the 27th of June I’ll be at GR2 in Los Angeles in a two-man show with Vincent Nguyen entitled “Still, Life”.  Also, the RVMP crew has murals planned in the New York City area this spring and summer.