Office tour: inside the studio and gallery of artist Vicki Lee
Image credits: Courtesy of Vicki Lee.
Rare is the opportunity to get up close and personal with a real life artist.
Think about it: museumgoers are hardly ever privy to an artist’s process, only ever seeing works in situ, hung up on a gallery wall, removed from the paint-covered stools and palettes that dot their private studios.
In order to really understand an artist’s practice, their oeuvres and their inspirations, one needs to gain access to the spaces and places in which their works come to life.
Enter Australian artist Vicki Lee. Famed for her dynamic, multimedia works that toy with the synergies between florals and paints, Lee has gained a social following of over 25,000 on Instagram, and is one of Australia’s most promising contemporary artists.
To coincide with the recent opening of her eponymous space, Vicki Lee Gallery, in the heart of Surry Hills, Lee opened up her studio and gallery space to Vogue. Here, she chats her favourite pieces, her preference for working in a flexible environment and the importance of context when it comes to showcasing her work.
Lee’s latest work, a custom piece designed in collaboration with Ted O’Donnell, can be seen at The Star, Sydney until August 31st.
Do you have an office or studio, and can you tell us about it?
“I have a painting studio in Paddington, Sydney and a gallery space in Surry Hills, Sydney. I like to keep life deconstructed, generally. My painting/creative space is completely wild and free. Nothing is safe in there, especially a laptop! I have an ongoing joke with friends to ‘leave the Celine at the door.'”
Are there pieces of art hung on the walls, specific furniture designers or brands you’ve included in your space or stationery you use to make it distinctly yours?
“The gallery has original paintings of mine as well as the work Ted and I do together: our love project – ‘The Floral Series.'”
How long have you been in your current studio and gallery space?
“The Vicki Lee Gallery opened this month. My painting studio I’ve had for a few years and before that, I painted in my garage.”
What is the best thing about working in your studio?
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“I’m able to make the space change as often as I need it to. I’ve always thrived on change. It is a great platform to express my desires for fluidity and newness. Whether it is the scent, the actual artworks, the lighting, the music. I love changing it all up every day.”
What is the hardest thing about working in your studio?
“Sitting still. It does not happen very often.”
Talk us through the interiors and decisions behind them.
“All the furniture in our gallery was designed and hand-made by Ted. He has a real passion and secret talent for furniture design. He happens to have the perfect eye for the craft.”
Can you tell us about the Vicki Lee Gallery? How did you choose the location, and did you design the space yourself?
“We designed the space to be the antithesis of a plain white wall gallery: we designed it to be different, provocative and delicious. The location reminds me of New York. It’s grittier than a traditional gallery space you would expect in Sydney. There is a sense of texture in the surrounds – the physical environment and also the energy – the people, the restaurants, the street signs. All of it.”
You just showcased your latest exhibition in your own space. How did that feel?
“It felt really really good. It felt like having a big dinner party with my friends. A very, very big dinner. Satiated.”
Do you have a favourite piece from the exhibition, and if so, why?
“My favourite piece is #2 of the EONIA exhibit [pictured above]. I had a very special friend in mind when creating this piece and the end result was a beautiful form that provokes a deep sadness and a strong euphoric feeling in unison. That’s what it provokes in me anyway. It’s a truly beautiful piece.”
As an artist, what sorts of elements and spaces are conducive to producing your best work?
“I need my painting space to be a ‘free’ space. I’ve tried home studios and they don’t work as it is impossible for me to contain myself so I end up getting paint everywhere.
When it comes to creative ideas and concepts for the work, I find being in motion is essential. Physically in motion – walking, driving, whatever motion it is. My brain doesn’t work when I’m sitting down.”
When showcasing your work, do you look for spaces that complement your work (colour palettes; materials) or provide a blank canvas?
“I prefer a blank canvas. Perhaps focusing on texture and depth and keeping the colours minimal.”
Can you speak to the process of designating walls in a space to certain works? How important is lighting, height from the floor, and distance from the viewer?
“In curating the space, there were a couple of considerations that were particularly important to us. We feel our work must always be big. We selected the space because it didn’t limit us in terms of size at all. The flower series are shot at high enough resolution that you can get as close as you like and still find beautiful detail, but we want to fill your field of vision from afar as well so that you can swim around in the work as much as possible. We want to elicit emotions and make you feel like you are entering a new world.
In making my resin and acrylic works, I like to work unimpeded by constraints so I need to be able to move and that means creating large works. When designating wall space, we worked very naturally to find a balance. We made the works based on an initial story, then just moved until we found harmony. This is something that comes naturally to both of us – we placed things based on feeling, and when it felt good we stopped.
Lighting is extremely important to both of us. Light can nudge your emotion subtly or with force. It can make space feel inviting or like a prison. The space has beautiful soft ambient light due to the south-facing orientation and never receives harsh sun, this allows us to have full control of the lighting environment at all times of day.
The downstairs has virtually no ambient light so it’s a perfect bunker-type setting to really create mood.”
In what ways do you think space impacts mood and audience reception to your work?
“Level 1 [of the gallery] is the opening space. It is open to view from the street level, encased in glass walls. You are a part of the back streets of Surry Hills on Level 1. The mirrored perspex reflects the amazing lighting showroom next to us.
Level 2, the underground, is a darker, more enclosed space. We have only one light shining on each work. We also have a room in the deepest part of downstairs that is a digital installation space. We created it for people to come and feel calm but invigorated and alive at the same time.”
Are there any spaces or artists’ studios that particularly inspire you, and why?
“Picasso. Because it was huge and sexy.”
What plans do you have for the Vicki Lee Gallery in the future?
“We created this space to have a real-time, real-life platform to communicate all the feelings and sense all the senses. All at once. We will be hosting experiential sensory journeys at The Gallery. We want the art to extend further than the canvas.”