11/10/69, Victoria Australia
With his paint-stained Dulux t-shirt and workman’s trousers people assume Chris Lees paints houses, and he doesn’t contradict them.
Opal miner turned landscape painter breathes new life into the art market with his arresting landscapes. Christopher Lees reflects an authority in his brushstrokes which is evident in his monumental perspectives of the Australian terrain. In his twenties Lees travelled extensively throughout remote Australia, working as an opal miner. Now based in rural Victoria, his experiences of the outback unravel on the canvas in panoramic and dioramic form.
“Freedom has always been important to me. When I was younger, if I didn’t like what I was doing, I would just walk away. I would get in the car, maybe even travel to another state, and simply trust that I would find other work. I feel privileged to be in this position – painting full-time. I don’t want to get cocky. I don’t want to see other artists as competition…that is why I take on the ‘tradie’ persona.”
He says that he has”… never been with a teacher so I am a lot freer. For me, painting is instinctual. I know if a painting is working – practice also helps guide instinct…I would like my work to live on and I am conscious that people are buying works for investment. I want (the works) to last 500 years, so I use great materials.”
“I want to connect with the viewer by using colour and familiar motifs that are typically associated with the Australian environment. Exaggeration of space and elements create a theatrical representation of the landscape.”
Lees’s process is straightforward. He begins with a sketch which organizes the painting, creating a sense of balance and proportion that is transposed onto the canvas, working to achieve a composition that is harmonious. The resultant landscapes are still, stark, and mysterious. Devoid of people and fauna, they echo the experience of the painter in the studio with only his creative muse for company.
“I exaggerate space and the elements of landscape which makes my work theatrical, but colour is the key…I want to ensure that people understand my work is concerned with the Australia landscape– I love those earthy colours.”
Lees respects the canon of Australian landscape painting.
“When I first started painting I was interested in how Arthur Boyd created works using fine brushes.”
2019 “Transfigure”, Harvey Galleries, Sydney
2018 “Group Show” Margaret River Gallery WA
2018 “Terrain” Harvey Galleries Sydney
2017 “Group Show” Libby Edwards Galleries Melbourne
2017 “Recent Landscapes” Harvey Galleries Sydney
2017 “Recent Landscapes” Redsea Gallery Brisbane
2016 “Recent Work” Harvey Galleries Sydney
2015 “Vision of Solus”, Redsea Gallery Brisbane
2014 “Recent Paintings” Libby Edwards Galleries
2014 “Exhibition WA”, Gadfly Gallery Perth 2013
2012 “Recent Paintings” Libby Edwards Galleries
2011 Libby Edwards Galleries Sydney 2011 “New Surrealist paintings” Libby Edwards Galleries Melbourne 2010 “Recent Landscapes”, Libby Edwards Galleries Melbourne 2009 “Recent Landscapes”, Libby Edwards Galleries Melbourne 2008 “Recent Landscapes”, Libby Edwards Galleries Melbourne 2008 “Recent Landscapes”, Libby Edwards Galleries Brisbane 2007 “Coldsnap”, Libby Edwards Galleries Sydney 2007 Libby Edwards Galleries in Hong Kong 2006 Libby Edwards Galleries Sydney 2005 “Australian Landscapes”, Libby Edwards Galleries Melbourne 2004 “Recent Landscapes”, Libby Edwards Galleries Sydney 2002 Libby Edwards Galleries, Sydney 2001 Libby Edwards Galleries, Sydney 2001 Libby Edwards Galleries, South Yarra 2000 Libby Edwards Galleries, South Yarra 2000 Libby Edwards Galleries, South Yarra 1999 Libby Edwards Galleries, Portsea 1999 Libby Edwards Galleries, South Yarra
Painterly detail richly illuminates skies with delicate layers of graduated color. Finger-painting adds immediacy to cliff faces and calligraphic brushwork delicately enhances tree branches. Lees admires Fred Williams’ abstractions in nature, and this influence appears in his reductionist tree forms. Lees explains his intentions, “The Australian landscape is an enigma of nature’s imagination. I try to illustrate this concept in my paintings. In my canvasses no picturesque European gardens or manicured lawns are in evidence, but gnarly, craggy, primeval escarpments that plummet into the abyss. The landforms are not easily accessible, viewed only by floating on the deep black liquid with no floor, or birdlike, hovering over this strange land in a dreamlike trance. There are no sounds, no winds or signs of life, but fragments of familiar motifs such as boulders, trees and occasionally fence lines that suggest enigmatic past habitations.
I try to represent the Australian bush with emotions that can’t be written down. I want the viewer to feel alone, at peace, and privileged to behold this surreal landscape”.
Whilst navigating his fishing adventures, Lee’s builds up a memory bank of composites that he can later draw on – secret streams of iron-coloured water are bordered by iconic eucalypt and mountainsides littered with boulders, cliffs and crevasses. Lees’ process is straightforward, beginning with a sketch which organizes the painting, creating a sense of balance and proportion that is transposed onto the canvas. The resultant landscapes are still, stark, and mysterious. Lees strives to attain perfection in the way each subject is rendered and harmony in composition. Devoid of people and fauna, they echo the experience of the painter in the studio with only his creative muse for company.
Amongst his recent series, the painting “Keeper of the Lake” is an homage to Nolan, with a monumental boulder echoing the Kelly series. “I am not painting like Sidney Nolan – I’m not even interested in mimicking another artist’s style. But I want to acknowledge the importance of whom and what has come before in this genre.”
His favourite pastime, fishing, often guides his compositional choices. “I like creating sheer cliff faces and the towering mountains. I have travelled to many places in Australia. The paintings don’t depict a specific place. Instead I want to convey a feeling about the Australian landscape… If I’m not fishing I like to paint a place where I would like to fish…and I love to paint water.”
Demand for his work is now driven by overseas and local collectors. Lees is represented in corporate and private collections in Australia, Asia, Italy, and the UK.
Christopher Lees ‘Terrain’ Mosman Exhibition 2018
EARTHSCAPE: A Group Show – Mosman Exhibition 2017