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Austin Lee's 3D Reality

How would you describe your practice? 


I make paintings and sculptures using a computer to sketch out ideas.


How vital is technology for you?


It’s part of the world and you can choose to embrace it or distance yourself from it. They're basically just tools of the time you are in. These tools can really change our perception and the way humans understand the world and how we live in it. An invention like photography or a computer or telephone completely changes the way humans behave and interact. I feel like that’s something worth thinking about.


How long have you been working with 3-D printing and what materials do you use?


I started experimenting with it back in grad school around 2011. I’ve used mostly plastic but also bronze filament and plaster powder. 



Tell me about discovering VR and how it's changed your practice. What do you use it for? 


I’ve only been using it for like a week but it’s been a huge breakthrough. My friend Rachel Rossin convinced me to try it. I didn’t really understand how useful it was until she showed me how you could make sculptures in virtual reality. It’s really amazing how it works as a tool. You can make a sculpture that is six-feet high and walk around it and get a sense of what it would be like if you made it that big. It’s like how I can try things out in photoshop first with a 2D image, but with sculptures. I was in Milan recently and made a 3D scan of the Rondanini Pieta — it’s probably my favorite sculpture. It’s not the same as seeing it in person, but I can look at the scan in virtual reality, and I can look at the form in the way a photo or flat image just can’t compete with. 


How would you compare the act of using VR with painting? It's similarly so sensual — maybe even more so? 


That’s a good way of putting it. Yes, I think that’s one of the things I am drawn to with it. It’s like nothing else in the way it feels though. A book or a movie let’s you escape your body and go into someone else’s reality. In VR this imagined world extends to your physical body also. It’s really interesting. 


I read in a recent interview you said: “There is no specific message I am trying to convey, although I’m happy to share my thoughts. I don’t want others to think the same way but I do want others to think ... I try to understand the world around me by making artwork – there are messages and meaning as a result.” Is there a message or no? What is it?


I’m trying to say that there is not one correct interpretation. Painting is a special visual language that can say things that are unsayable in other mediums. I’m just as interested in what a painting evokes in a viewer as in why I made it. Often people come to my studio and say things about my work that I hadn’t thought about. That can really change my own view of it. I am also learning in the process. I’m just saying that I like that about it. Everyone has a different experience and viewpoint they bring to something. Me appreciating that doesn’t remove any of my own agency. Paintings can have multiple meanings. When I first started making drop shadow paintings in the mid 2000’s they felt really weird because I hadn’t seen that kind of imagery outside of a computer. I still like those paintings but they are different now because the world is different now and the way I understand them is different, but it’s still the same object. 


How did you get involved in the group show in San Francisco, Pleasure Over Matter


My friend Darryl Westly asked me if I’d contribute a work for a show in San Francisco and I said sure. 


Tell me about the work that's being presented in this show. 


I made a tiny 3D-printed VR sculpture of Darryl, based on a 3D scan. 


What do you think of the art scene in San Francisco? 


I have never been there so I don’t know much about it, but I'm curious. 


Do you see it rivaling either LA or NY at any point? 


No I feel like all these cities are unique and people can find special things in each one. 


Do you think it matters much where a show is held — city or specific location — when everything is online anyways? 


I don’t think of online documentation as a replacement to seeing a show. It’s just documentation. It’s great that it makes it easier to get a sense of a lot of things going on in the world at the same time quickly but it’s certainly not the same thing as living in place or visiting it. 


  • Check out Lee's current group show Pleasure Over Matter in San Francisco, on view now. Email The Space Program San Francisco for an appointment. And mark your calendar for the group show Punch, which opens at Jeffrey Deitch in New York on September 15.

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