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Nick Lee


2. Installation view, Ken Lum_ Death and Furniture, Art Gallery of Ontario. Artworks © Ken

"Knowledge at Your Leisure" by Nick Lee

Nick Lee

sM | One social issue that your art speaks to the most?

NL ── One of the social issues that remains in my work is representation. When I grew up, as a young Japanese American, I did not have many role models that looked like me in the media. Fast forward to myself as an adult and the same thing could be said about the art community in America. White Supremacy has bled into the art world, with the majority of the works in museums in the United States being created by white men, and portraits shown in museums of only white people. This does not reflect the world we live in, nor my life as Asian American. The 

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work I choose to do reflects portraits of minorities, like myself, who are not represented well in our media and in art. When people, especially children, look at paintings and can see themselves represented, it gives them the permission that they can achieve their own dreams.

sM | What have you accomplished in your residency that you're proud of?

NL ── I got to share my culture as a Japanese American and paint more diversity for the public. I painted many works based on my Japanese heritage from wooden dolls to kabuki masks. I was never informed about my own culture in public education. If  I can bring more attention to Japanese culture and art to the great city of Cleveland, then it pleases me. My work seeks more representation in painting. I chose to paint the security guard, Matt, who works at van Gogh Cleveland too. Matt’s portrait is based on van Gogh’s Postman portrait. This allows African American people to see themselves in a traditional painting. A young boy was so excited to see that painting and to see himself represented. He even took a picture with Matt in front of the painting. These incidents make me proud as an artist, because people feel seen in the work.

sM | How does it feel being a staff member and a resident artist at the same exhibit?

NL ── In the summer of 2021, I searched for a long time for a job that would be creative and fulfilling to me, a recent graduate. When I got hired to work at Immersive Van Gogh Cleveland, I felt really blessed to find a job in my field and to work at a place that appreciates the arts. I feel that this was a great transition from getting my BFA in painting to working full time. Then I became the Artist-in-Residence for this wonderful job, and I felt honored that I was chosen to represent van Gogh and his work. We celebrate the life of Vincent van Gogh by cherishing his paintings and I feel I do that when I am a host or painting at the venue. My favorite part about working here is talking about van Gogh’s life, and his paintings, with the guests and staff.

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