Nicholas Thompson Gallery
Queensland College of Art graduate Rhys Lee’s latest exhibition at Nicholas Thompson Gallery follows on from a sprawling exhibition he staged there in 2017, entitled 10 Paintings and 100 Drawings. This 2018 iteration is considerably smaller in scale. Whistle Work is made up of only nine medium to large paintings, but it takes off from where the artist left off. Lee is a prolific painter; his works might loosely be described as portraiture but they’re not really like any portraiture you have seen before. They nearly always include a face or the suggestion of a face; according to Thompson, “Lee considers this as almost a type of self-portraiture.” Most recently he has been painting images of psychotic poodles, all bulging eyes and maniacal, bared teeth. They offer a kind of perverted beauty: pampered animals rendered grotesque and mad. Weird too, they hold your gaze.
For Whistle Work he has painted cats too – who exude all the aloofness of an art connoisseur – menacing baboons and more poodles – or are they clowns? The new works continue Lee’s investigation into colour relationships, in his typical prolific mode of art making. He lets the imagery well up from his subconscious; the subjects that people his work are at times a nightmarish mix of cartoon characters, caricature and spooky horror tropes. It’s a show that pulses with a mania, a kind of gestural abstraction meets George Condo. His work owes a debt to Sidney Nolan and Albert Tucker, yes, but it is infused with a contemporary energy that is truly palpable. The palette too is a riot of colour. The art shouldn’t work but it does. Whistle Work opens at Nicholas Thompson Gallery, Melbourne on July 25 and shows until August 12, 2018.