Mike Lee

Simplified silhouettes remove colour, detail and identity to become universally accessible.

American visual artist Mike Lee was born in 1983 in Placentia, California, and now lives and works in New York.


He has exhibited at biennales and galleries all around the world, in locations such as South Korea, Germany, Japan, Hawaii, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and the Netherlands.

Did you know?

He has worked as a colour key artist on internationally acclaimed animated feature films such as Ice Age and Rio.

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Collaborations with this artist

Practice overview

As funny as they are tender, Lee’s voluptuous monochrome figures hang like inflatables in negative space. While the compositions look digitally rendered, they’re in fact created on canvas and paper using a selection of oil and acrylic paint, pastel and graphite. The artists’ process is largely instinctive. To start, he sketches abstract shapes which stem from his imagination and then, by adding recognisable elements such as hair, t-shirts and limbs, he personifies them. The blank faces and plain clothes are intentional, designed to be open to interpretation so that any viewer - irrespective of identity - can project themselves into the image.

While Lee is a self-taught painter, prior to his artistic career he worked as a digital animator for a number of established studios. This sensibility emanates throughout his style, creating dialogues between our virtual and physical selves. Moreover, his use of contrasting light and shadow brings a new twist to traditional techniques of chiaroscuro which - as intended by its Renaissance inventors - creates an intense sense of drama in the scenes. Channeling personal experiences into his art, Mike creates visually exciting compositions which function as a series of indirect self-portraits: by sharing an expression of his inner emotional life, he hopes to open a fun and playful space for others to reflect on their own.

“I've always been a real observer, so all I bring to my work are the things I've seen and experienced.” Mike Lee