Marta Lee: A Room of One's Own
Babst Gallery is pleased to announce A Room of One’s Own, a solo exhibition of paintings by Marta Lee curated by Gilles Heno-Coe. The exhibition will be on view from January 20 to February 17, 2024 at 413 South Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. This will be Lee’s first solo exhibition in Los Angeles.
As an artist, Lee has an earnest devotion to still life and is always on the lookout for appealing objects to paint. These things are either uncommon or so ordinary that few would think twice about them—old cans or coffee mugs, discarded pieces of foam or cardboard, paper fruit cartons. Other times, the objects have intense personal significance and history, such as a colorful hacky sack she’s had since childhood and which she first painted in 2015, or the custard bun paper from a Chinese bakery that has appeared in works since 2019.
As she explains about her use of still life, “One of the reasons I make a still life is to play with the combination of multiple perspectives. I never strive to look at the objects from the same angle every time. I allow them to distort in some way.” Like one often finds in ancient Roman frescos, Lee’s paintings combine faithful renderings of objects as seen from multiple, subtly different viewpoints, lending a wonderful tension between close observation and abstract improvisation.
A Room of One’s Own (2021) is an aerial view of the artist’s bedroom. The raw linen circle in the middle of the painting, which marks the spot where Lee’s paint can rested, doubles as a compositional element that again emphasizes the overall flatness and materiality of the painting. This work, like many others in the exhibition, tells a story—here, of a breakup and a new relationship, clues to which are embedded in many of the individual objects.
Lee’s recent work, Sill Life (2023), shows a scene as observed looking out of Lee’s home studio window. Like other works, Sill Life also tells several stories at once. The “0” candle comes from Lee’s thirtieth birthday party, the mug was made by a friend, and the gorgeous coin purse is a gift from yet another. Many of Lee’s works function like collages or tapestries, where disparate collections of objects interweave multiple tales simultaneously.
Lee is often less concerned about the viewer knowing these facts than she is in the material and sensory appeal to the viewer. As she explains, “In all of these works, I am striving for a harmony or balance between rendering what I find to be beautiful in the objects and making it interesting materially.” Often, the objects are so unusual as to be unrecognizable in paint. No matter how faithful Lee is in her depictions to the object as observed from life, they sometimes remain obscure and mysterious, their identity and meaning left indeterminate—just the way Lee likes it.
Marta Lee (b. Moscow, ID) lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. She received her BFA from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin. She has participated in several residencies including Fire Island Artist Residency, Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Hercules Art Studio Program, and most recently, the Sam and Adele Golden Foundation for the Arts. Lee has exhibited nationally and internationally in Chicago, Los Angeles, Austin, New York, London, and Shenzhen. She also works collaboratively with Anika Steppe under the moniker Frances Brady.
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