From the first room to the last, Jane Lee’s “Lila: Unending Play” (on view through September 24) celebrates a restless, playful artist who re-imagines nightscapes and the astronomical sublime to astound, inspire, and assault the senses. For Lee, abstract painting has long been more than a means to experiment with form and color on a flat surface. Rather than creating images or pictures, she stages her works as sensuous, spatial objects that bring surrounding architecture to life.
Entering a white room, I mused on the dichotomy between an intellectual, logical abstraction expressed by Lee’s series of white door frames reacting against a long black corridor and an emotional, intuitive abstraction embodied in a tiny, vigorously layered and sculpted black relief-painting topped with a big dollop of white paint. Venturing further might lead into optical and cognitive obliteration. Yet we desire to continue, to be manipulated into the unknown. So I headed through the hypnotic, repetitive doorways, subjecting myself to pupil-dilating tricks and perhaps a moment of vertiginous anxiety.
The far end of the corridor revealed the third and final part of this group of works, collectively titled Lila (The Ultimate Play) (2023). I found myself in a dark room, staring at a black, cave-like subterranean space with an opening finished in sensuously tactile white plaster. Within the space, Lee gave close attention to different manifestations of the sublime as found in the night sky and illuminated cities. A large-scale, immersive black painting on wood, In Praise of Darkness (2023), sets the stage for a performative display of her process, which I would liken to “chrysanthemum wedging” in Japanese ceramics. Lee sculpted the acrylic paint and gel into continuous, rhythmic circular patterns, the glistening forms suggesting a black, choppy sea or the skyglow invoked by astronomers and environmentalists.
Hollow and Empty (2023), a wall-like sculpture featuring numerous mirror-finish circular steel plates placed at strange angles to each other, presides at the center of the show, throwing swirling, glittering patterns onto the walls and ceiling. The impression is of a sparkly nightclub, but a closer look reveals these effects to be reflections and shadows cast by this visually complex work. The beauty of Hollow and Empty lies, at least partly, in the abstract order of “straight lines and circles” made into tangible “surfaces and solids.” Lee’s rigorous technique seems to parallel that of a mathematician reducing everything to logic.
The Object I and The Object II (both 2011), sculptural paintings made of mixed media on wood, resemble knitted fabrics or heavy tapestries, draped and folded, cut and torn by hand or machine. Their striated appearance, achieved through numerous threads of squeezed white paint overlaid one on top of the other, animates the surface with movement and action, as reds, ochres, and other colors subtly creep through the whites.
The show truly comes alive with these objects, which relate to walls and floor in various ways. The stunning red monument Status (2009) spills off the wall, onto the floor, and into the room with elegance, unfurling like a larger-than-life gown; a feather-trim border frames the spellbinding rectangular “bodice,” setting off a sparkling interior in which solidity erodes into an open-work play of residual geometry and random patterning. Defying the pictorial and the surface limitations of painting, Lee’s works expand their reach to become sculpture, engaging space and creating their own environments.